When a book is first published, it’s anybody’s guess whether it will be liked, never mind becoming a long-running musical. Annie, based upon both the book by Thomas Meehan and Harold Gray’s comic strip Little Orphan Annie, includes music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and has been enthralling audiences since 1977. Annie continued running for nearly six years during its first run and has won seven Tony Awards. The Broadway musical’s songs “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life” are recognizably its most popular numbers.
Come a bit early and hear the fun Wurlitzer preshow music, which sets the tone for the 1933 NYC setting. Once the curtain rises, you’re treated to beautiful angelic voices from the talented young actors/dancers. Directed by Jenn Thompson, this gem will have you smiling, tapping your feet, and singing along! Ellie Pulsifer portrays Annie, the 11-year-old orphan who believes her parents are coming to get her as promised. Who knows how many youngsters got turned away at auditions as this little lady was clearly a shoo-in once heard. Lo and behold, she can act and dance to boot! You can’t help but grin as her orphan counterparts also sing and dance their way into your heart.
Stefanie Londino portrays Miss Hannigan, the tipsy orphanage matron who shows anything but love to the girls, providing much comic relief with her drunken antics. Christopher Swan as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks charms us with his stern but caring ways (and rocks the chrome dome!). There’s also Julia Nicole Hunter, portraying Warbucks’ protective and beautiful personal assistant, Grace Farrell, who nicely ties together the fantasy of this handsome trio becoming a family.
Of course your heart goes out to Little Orphan Annie and her small troupe of hopefuls. It’s a feel-good show as Warbucks’ house staffers secretly cheer on the sweet underdog after he announces his decision to adopt Annie. Many performers portray different parts throughout and it’s fun when you spot the servants in different roles such as dancers, a beat cop, a dog catcher, a passerby, or even a Hooverville hobo. Perhaps the most memorable of these is Jataria Heyward, who portrays Mrs. Greer, Star to Be, Ronnie Boylan, and is part of the ensemble. She manages to portray each different character like a chameleon during four seasons, while equally impressing with her dancing and singing talents.
Show stealer Sandy the dog, as portrayed by Addison, got lots of “aawwws” on her first appearance. We would’ve liked to have seen more of her. Understandable though, as she’s maybe not one of the more reliable actors despite the awesome training by William Berloni. To his credit, Berloni insists on using rescue dogs who may have been euthanized otherwise – a life-saving win-win! Addison was rescued four years ago from a NC shelter just one day before she was to be euthanized. Training rescue dogs for the theater takes two to three years, according to Berloni. “First, they get healthy and housebroken,” he says. Then trainers use a basic obedience course with positive reinforcement. “Every behavior has a reward,” explains Berloni, “and for the most part, the reward is love.” From there the dogs learn cues for the show and bond with Pulsifer. Humans were already giving a standing O at the end of PPAC’s premiere performance, and Addison – once again stealing the spotlight – got the most resounding applause!
Settings by Wilson Chin primarily include striking NYC skylines on black and white backdrops, with the current scene in the foreground perpetually illuminating the cityscape. The lighting design by Philip Rosenberg accents this effect perfectly.
Costumes by Alejo Vietti include impressive period garb from the post-Depression era. Sound design by Ken Travis features musical direction from Elaine Davidson that makes you feel like you’re in the pit with an orchestra. Choreography by Patricia Wilcox is fun and expressive.
Amazing vocals and synchronized dancing are just part of the fun at this family show. You’ll want to sing along (but please don’t if you think it’ll get “Sandy” howling!). Gotta leave yer dog at home though.
PPAC presents Annie through February 5. For more info, visit ppacri.org/events.