Review: Annie Is Fun – Bet Your Bottom Dollar

Annie, the musical plays at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through December 30 get tickets and more info here.

Annie is the huge blockbuster musical about the luckiest orphan in the world. Based on the beloved comic strip, the musical brought the little rag-muffin into the homes of millions worldwide. Billie Wildrick, who is a highly recognizable presence on the Seattle stage, makes her directorial debut with this new production at The 5th Avenue Theatre.

The story is a literal rags-to-riches story with a parentless eleven-year-old at the center. Annie is the unofficial leader of a group of young girl orphans that all reside at a New York City orphanage during the Depression of the 1930’s. The children live under the dictatorship of Mrs. Hannigan, a frustrated city worker that has grown to dislike her job and her wards. Annie, who is constantly trying to escape to find her parents, has earned Mrs. Hannigan’s wrath. As Christmas comes closer, the billionaire Oliver Warbucks decides to take in an orphan for the holidays. Annie charms her way into the proposal, and quickly makes her way further into the billionaire’s heart. When Mrs. Hannigan’s shady conman brother (Rooster) shows up with his girlfriend, the three of them concoct a plan to impersonate Annie’s parents, collect the large reward, and swindle their way to “Easy Street”.

The entire cast of this production all does a wonderful job. The entire Ensemble works together as a single unit, in creating a fantastic group of supporting characters and players. For those patrons that found a home at The 5th Avenue Theatre, there are many ‘recognizable’ faces and names to find among them including, Anne Allgood, Cayman Ilika, and Matt Wolfe among many others.

Cynthia Jones as Miss Hannigan, Cheyenne Casebier as Lily St. Regis, and Dane Stokinger as Rooster (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

Cynthia Jones as Miss Hannigan, Cheyenne Casebier as Lily St. Regis, and Dane Stokinger as Rooster (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

The villains provide the comic relief of the show, which is often the case for ‘child-friendly’ performances. The characters of “Rooster Hannigan” and “Lily St. Regis” (named for the hotel) are played by Dane Stokinger and Cheyenne Casebier, respectively. They are the crooks that come up with the idea to impersonate Annie’s parents. The two work together with the proper amount of ‘oozy charm’ to let the audience believe their cons have worked in the past, and often. Mr. Stokinger’s voice is strong and clear. Ms. Casebier shows us that not every ‘dumb blonde’ character has to be squeaky in tone, and she (thankfully) avoids letting her character become a stereotype.

Mrs. Hannigan (played by Cynthia Jones) is the caretaker of the orphanage, who has reached the end of her wits. Ms. Jones allows the character’s frustrations to be vented without relying on slapstick comedy. She shows the audience that she is a ‘woman with feelings’ as well as her frustration with the ‘little girls’ all around her. She is the perfect villainess for younger audience members – subtly menacing without creating a fearful presence. We are still intimidated by her, but we can laugh at her all the same.

Jessica Skerritt plays the role of Grace Farrell, Mr. Warbuck’s personal secretary. Ms. Skerritt should be a familiar face to the returning 5th Avenue patron. She adds the perfect amount of charm to the role without compromising the strength of the character. ‘Grace’ is the one to broker between Annie and Mr. Warbucks, introducing them and encouraging their relationship to grow. She is the maternal figure that both Warbucks and Annie so badly need.

5th Avenue veteran Timothy McCuen Piggee plays Oliver Warbucks. His voice is deep, rich and he uses it well to envelope both the excitement and tenderness needed. Whether it’s the love song to the city “N.Y.C.”, or the tender “Something Was Missing”, Mr. Piggee knows how to reach the audience and take them under his wing. My only critique (and pretty much my only one for the show) is that this “Oliver Warbucks” seems to demonstrate a cold and detached demeanor by shouting almost everything said on stage – with the exception of his songs. I felt as if he were angry more than impersonal.

The orphans definitely need to be mentioned as major characters of the show: Kate (Sarah Bennett), Pepper (Bea Corley), July (Carolyn Dunbar), Tessie (Julia Glynn), Molly (Olivia Juarez), Olive (Miranda Power), Millie (Maya Russell), and Duffy (Zoe Papadakis). These ‘little girls’ all exude great amounts of energy in their work. Whether they are venting frustrations of their “Hard Knock Life”, lamenting their abandoned situation in “Maybe”, or celebrating the simple joys of life with “Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, these girls all shine.

The Orphans in Annie (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

The Orphans in Annie (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

The star of the show is without question, is the title role of Annie (alternatively played every third performance by Visesia Fakatoufifita and Faith Young). Ms. Fakatoufifita (who appeared opening night) played the role well, choosing a subtler, almost a narrator’s ‘watching-from-the-sidelines’ (as she appears in the original comic strip) approach opposed to a more ‘in-the-center-of-everything’ interpretation. This young lady knew how to reach out to the audience and endear us to her none-the-less. Her voice is strong and she did a great job with, what has become the unofficial anthem of the show, “Tomorrow”.

A lot of the credit needs to go to Billie Wildrick’s directorial debut at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Ms. Wildrick’s experience as an accomplished (and very versatile) actress has given her good insight in how to visualize and present a large-scaled production. Ms. Wildrick has found a way to breathe new life and fresh energy into an old chestnut of a show, revitalizing its appeal to an audience well familiar with its merits.

As with any good musical, the songs, lyrics and book to the show are as important a live entity as anyone on the stage. Charles Strouse (Bye, Bye Birdie, and the ‘All in the Family’ theme song, Those Were the Days) wrote the music, with lyrics by Martin Charnin (Two By Two, and who originated the role ‘Big Deal’ on stage in West Side Story). Thomas Meehan (who also penned the scripts to The Producers – the musical, Hairspray – the musical and Young Frankenstein – the musical) wrote the book.

The musical Annie is one of those family-friendly classic musicals that have become a staple for the holiday seasons. It delivers an optimistic message for younger and older audience members alike, and gives you several songs that will create long-lasting earworms, if not unconscious humming for weeks afterwards.

Annie was conceived by Martin Charnin (who also directed the original Broadway production), and is based on the comic strip by Harold Gray. It opened on Broadway April 08, 1977 and remained for over five years. It was nominated for 10 Tony Awards (winning seven including 1977 Best Musical), making Andrea McArdle (Annie) a household name. The less-touted movie version (1982) starred Carol Burnett as Mrs. Hannigan, Albert Finney as Oliver Warbucks, and Tim Curry as Rooster. Disney studios released another version in 1999 starring Kathy Bates as Mrs. Hannigan, Victor Garber as Oliver Warbucks, Alan Cumming as Rooster, Kristen Chenoweth as Lily St. James, and Audra McDonald as Grace. A third filmed version was released in 2014 earning the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Remake.

Annie, the musical plays at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through December 30 get tickets and more info here.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at:

1 Reply to “Review: Annie Is Fun – Bet Your Bottom Dollar”

  1. Babette says:

    Excellent review. Almost makes me want to see the show again. I saw it at an amateur theater and it was very disappointed.

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