Friday, August 10, 2007


My father always thought that if a little was good, then a lot must be really good. The ghost of my father must be residing in the amplification system of Music Circus’s production of “Annie.” I have seen many shows at Music Circus over the years, and for some reason, “Annie” seems to get more oomph from the sound system than any other. Perhaps it’s because of having children on the stage, or maybe more hard of hearing people tend to come to see “Annie,” but I sure longed for ear plugs every time one of the principals screamed out another solo, or the little girls did an ensemble number.

The unfortunate thing is that this production does not need all that amplification (which occasionally distorts the voices). The kids are absolutely terrific. Carly Speno, Aubrey Niemi, Kendyl Ito, Heather McDonald, Hayley Smith and six year old Miriam Mars are pros, every one of them. Choreographer Bob Richard has given the girls some great dance numbers and they shine in each, particularly in the “Hard Knock Life” number.

For anyone who has been living under a rock since 1977, “Annie,” based on the cartoon of the same name is the story of a young orphan growing up in a New York orphanage run by a sadistic alcoholic. She longs for the parents who left her on the orphanage steps 11 years ago, half of a silver locket around her neck, and a note promising to return to retrieve her. She's invited to spend Christmas with billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who eventually adopts her, and almost everyone lives happily ever after.

The musical with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin has been charming and delighting audiences for three decades and the current production certainly seems to be following suit.

For “Annie” to be a success, you need an outstanding young actress to play the title role, originated by Andrea McArdle. I’ve seen good Annies and not so good Annies, but Kelsey Smith is one of the best. This 11 year old has an amazing voice which doesn’t waver, not for a moment. Her unyielding optimism is infectious and she belts out a great “Tomorrow.”

Thank goodness hair and wig designers Ron Swanson and Paul B. Guthrie chose not to put Annie in one of those ridiculous red Afros that so many productions use. Instead they have given her an attractive wig with enough curl to be “special,” but not to make her look like the cartoon.

Reprising his role from the 2001 Music Circus production is Mark Zimmerman as Oliver Warbucks, advisor to everyone from FDR to Gandhi, whose heart is melted by a perennially cheerful little girl looking for her family. Zimmerman and Smith have work quite well together. Their dance was a very sweet moment.

Warbucks' secretary, Grace Farrell, is a strong showing by Christy Morton. She has a wonderful voice and maintains the fine line between efficient secretary and woman hiding her romantic feelings for her employer.

Adinah Alexander is the wretched Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphan asylum. She’s the matron you love to hate, hissing orders at the girls while tippling from a silver flask she claims is “medicine.” Her salute to "Little Girls" displayed wonderful comic timing, and her dance with her sleazy brother Rooster (Jim Walton) and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Annie V. Ramsey) was particularly fun to watch.

Walton wrings every bit of emotion he can from the role of the dapper con-man determined to use Annie to get money for himself. The gum-chewing Ramsey is his perfect match.

Kami Threlfall shines in her small bit as a Star to Be in "N.Y.C." and Ron Wisniski does a credible FDR. Richard Rice Allen is distinguished as Drake, Warbucks’ butler; and Michael Dotson gives a spot-on impersonation of Depression era radio announcer Bert Healy.

Annie’s dog Sandy is played by Lola, a rescue dog adopted from the Connecticut Humane Society, from which the original Sandy was also adopted. (Surprisingly there is no extra dog used in this production as the “stray dog,” as has been done in previous productions.)

The Music Circus tech crew deserves special mention for this show. These unsung heroes race onto the stage in pitch dark, pick up large set pieces and run them off, still in pitch dark, without ever slowing or interfering with the action of the show itself.

This production of “Annie” is outstanding and will delight adults and children alike. And if they could just turn down the amplification a touch, it could be darn near perfect.

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