A classic and theatre favorite has recently opened at the Ordway and it stars a red-haired girl. That's right, Annie is here and performing through the end of the month. Now many of you who are reading this will ask "But Brett...you hate Annie." It's true. Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Annie. I never have been BUT that doesn't mean this production wasn't good. It was great and the talent is beyond amazing. Annie is such an iconic musical because of it's countless of revivals through the stage and film. There are so many people who feel passionately about this show because it was one they were in when they were little, they remember playing the VHS over and over again or they remember belting the greatest hits from their shower. Annie originally opened on Broadway in 1977 and ran for nearly six years. Since then it has had numerous national tours, revivals on Broadway (most recently in 2012 with Lilla Crawford starring as Annie and Jane Lynch as a replacement for Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan), and countless of movie versions. That being said, the Ordway's production certainly can hold a flame to the candle of all the other versions.
Annie is the story of an orphan named, you guessed it, Annie who lives in a facility in New York City with other orphan girls. The facility is run by the villainous Miss Hannigan who treats the girls like unpaid maids versus orphans. Annie believes her parents left her there by mistake and are going to come back for her someday. In the meantime, one of the richest mans alive named Oliver Warbucks decides to let an orphan live at his home for the holiday season and chooses Annie. However, Annie still believes her parents will come back for her. After developing a strong bond with Annie, Warbucks begins searching for her parents with a large reward which brings out many frauds.
The best thing about this production is there are no weak links in the cast. The entire cast is on fire from the beginning all the way to curtain call. Oliver Warbucks, played by Lance Roberts, is a different type of Warbucks than we are used to. Granted it's been awhile since I've seen the show or movie but I remember him being more frightening with a booming voice. Roberts takes a different approach to Warbucks while making him more energetic and cheerful with a zest for life. Also perks to the Ordway for breaking the mold and casting an African American male to play Warbucks. Grace Farrell, Warbucks right-hand woman, is played by Ann Michels and brilliantly I might add. Her voice, both singing, and speaking, soar with an effortless air to it. Cat Brindisi and Britton Smith play Lily and Rooster, the brother to Miss. Hannigan. They are a comedic duo and their over the top shenanigans and dialogue keep the scene's light-hearted even at dark times through the show.
Annie is played by Carly Gendell who clearly has done her homework when it comes to vocal tone. She may be little but her voice is loud and echos throughout the large theater space. She is not only a fantastic singer but also an amazing actress as she perfectly captures the innocence of a young girl but also the wit and smarts that Annie has. She's fiercely strong and was forced to grow up at a young age and Gendell hits her mark perfectly. She is the perfect amount of maturity yet playfulness for the role.
While everyone was great, there was one that shined above the rest for me. As I said before, I am not a fan of the actual show, Annie but I am a huge fan of Miss Hannigan. I think the role is hilarious and I'd die to play it. Miss Hannigan is played by Michele Ragusa and she is very far the most entertaining part of this production. She's everything I think that makes a fantastic Miss Hannigan. She's the perfect amount of campiness that the role demands and her version of Little Girls was Carol Burnett level (who played Hannigan in one of the movies). Ragusa has a fantastic voice as well. She manages to sing wonderfully throughout the entire show while still adding a bit of Hannigan into her voice.
Other highlights of this production include:
- The set is one of the few things I wasn't entirely enthused about. The props enhanced each scene but the backdrops for scenes like Warbucks house took me out of the production. I will say towards the end of the show there was one scene in his house that included a giant spiral staircase. It was beautiful and I wanted nothing more than to gracefully glide down it.
- Hard Knock Life is the best-choreographed number in the entire show (by Lewis E. Whitlock III). It's sharp and precise and the ensemble in this number are all children actors. They do the choreography as if they've been doing it for years. Spot on.
- Before the second act starts, a brief video plays about the importance of family and adoption. As one of the main themes of the show, I loved that the Ordway took a show and partnered it with a cause. There is one thing I love more than good theatre and that's theatre for a cause!
Annie is beautifully performed and nostalgic to many people with plenty of songs. It runs through December 31st and tickets can be purchased here.