Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Annie a Joy for the Whole Family


by Sharon Falduto; photo by Krista Neumann

Josh Sazon as "Daddy" Warbucks;
Veronica Abreau as Annie
Iowa City - The Iowa City Community Theatre has continued its holiday tradition of gifting the community with a tremendously satisfying musical the whole family can enjoy. This year’s show is the delightful Annie. My entire family was delighted and engaged by the show, from the hyper five year old to the sardonic 12 year old.

The musical of Annie is based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strip, focusing on a story line in which she is plucked from the “Hard Knock Life” of her orphanage and lands in the lap of luxury at the manse of billionaire Oliver Warbucks. The original Broadway show opened in 1977 and it has been a perennial favorite on every platform from the big screen to our beloved local theaters ever since. Props to the lyrical composer, Martin Charnin, for my favorite rhyme ever: “No one cares for you a smidge when you’re in an or-phan-age.”

The core group of orphans were capable and entertaining in their singing and dancing; their raggedy clothes and dirty faces gave them an air of pity as they waited in the orphanage for the person who would “Maybe” eventually adopt each one. I’d like to make special mention of Molly, the youngest orphan, played by the adorable gap-toothed Chase Horning. I’m not quite certain which of the other girls played which orphan. Due to an unfortunate lighting choice indicating the time of day as the dead of night, each girl was in darkness during the one scene in which Annie called them each by name.

Director Krista Neuman was at her best when filling crowded scenes full of people, from the hustle and bustle of a New York City street (“NYC”) to the down in the mouth hoboes who sang in their Hooverville shantytown (“We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover”). Each ensemble member had a true sense of his or her character, whether he or she was a bum or a servant in Warbucks’ home. (As my husband joked, “It’s nice that Warbucks gave all those homeless people jobs”). I especially enjoyed watching the little playlets that took place during the “NYC” number, which included some of the same girls who played the orphans gussied up and playing well-to-do children out on the town.

Jill Beardsley had some fun, memorable choreography, including the kick line at the end of the orphans rendition of “Never Fully Dressed” and a humorous conga line during the Hannigans’ “Easy Street.”

Angela Howard did a nice job as a just-drunk-enough Miss Hannigan, the matron of the girls’ orphanage. She adequately handled the barely suppressed rage of the character intermingled with the desperate hopelessness she exhibited when throwing herself at any available man. Doug Beardsley as her brother Rooster and Eliza Sanders as his girlfriend Lily nicely rounded out the team of scoundrels who were out to con Warbucks through their knowledge of Annie. Though their scheme was evil, their dancing was light and amusing, and it was hard to truly dislike them.

Rebekah Kent was a lovely Grace Farrell, personal secretary to Oliver Warbucks. Her singing voice was light and pure but unfortunately at times too soft to be heard.

For this production the part of Annie was double cast; the performance we saw featured Veronica Abreau, a delightful young singer with a bright future in music. (Katey Halverson plays the role in the matinee performances next weekend and Abreau handles the role in the evening shows. And I’ve heard good things about Halverson as well so don’t be afraid to check out a matinee!)

The true standout from this show was Josh Sazon as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. He had a perfect blustering tone tinged with just the right amount of heart to make Warbucks believable as both a ruthless money grubbing billionaire and a softie who could fall in fatherly love with a little orphan girl.

The live music accompanying the show was spectacular, up to the caliber of any local performance venue. Unfortunately, at times the music that was meant to be a background to the dialogue overpowered the actors’ voices, and we missed some of the lines.

No production of Annie is complete without her faithful dog Sandy, and Opie-the-Dog was the best live performing dog I’ve ever seen. He came when called, he sat on cue, and he even ad-libbed a paw on Annie’s shoulder during her performance of the show’s big number, “Tomorrow.”

This is a great family show, with humor just grown up enough for the adults and with characters for children to relate to. It’s a wonderful Christmas gift to take your family to the Johnson County Fairgrounds and share the experience of live theater with them.

Annie runs one more weekend, with shows Dec 14 & 15 at 7:30 p.m., Dec 15 at 1 p.m., and Dec 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for students & seniors, and $10 for children, and are available here.

1 comment:

Kathleen Shellady said...

Having been to many Iowa City performances, my opinion is that this production ranks right up there for quality acting. Josh was amazing as "Daddy Warbucks" due to his timing, intellectual flair, and interaction with the other key actors. Ms. Hannigan also had the timing and roll of the eye that has been experienced time and again with this classic tale. The orphans can not be underrated along with both "Annie's," as they were professional, with great acting and singing. For their young ages, you have to appreciate their ability to perform so well to packed audiences. All of the cast brought something to this challenge and together they hit a home run. From directing, to acting, to orchestra, to staging, this show was more than worth the money!