Theatrical Review: “Annie”
Book, Music, and Lyrics by: Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin
Directed by: Carmela Guiteras Mayo
Theatrical Review by: Paul Adam Smeltz
The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA is currently presenting their production of the musical “Annie” written by Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin. The play is based upon the Comic strip titled, “Little Orphan Annie” which was created by Harold Gray and debuted on August 5th, 1924. The strip took its name from the 1885 poem titled, "Little Orphant Annie" (originally titled, “The Elf Child”) written by James Whitcomb Riley from which the well known line “An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you Ef you Don't Watch Out!” derives.
While the poem it was inspired by contained cautionary tales of what happens to children who misbehave, the comic strip focuses on the life of an orphaned girl name Annie and her adventures in a mean and corrupt world and attracted an adult readership by providing political commentary to the issues of the day. The Comic Strip’s began its story in an orphanage where Annie is routinely abused by the cold, sarcastic matron until a wealthy but mean-spirited Mrs. Warbucks takes Annie into her home “on trial.” Her husband develops an instant paternal affection for the child and she eventually calls him “Daddy.”
While away on business, his spiteful, jealous wife returns Annie to the orphanage who then sends her out to work as a drudge in Mrs. Bottle's grocery store. One day Annie saves a puppy called Sandy from a gang of cruel boys, but she find she can no longer endure the abuse and runs away. After some wandering the countryside and several adventures, she is reunited with “Daddy“ Warbucks after he offers a huge reward for her return.
Those who have seen the 1977 musical stage version of the life of Annie and her patron “Daddy” Warbucks can find some recognizable remnants of the original 1924 story line. However, one can not help but wonder what a play it would have been if the script was more faithful to it. It may not have become the lighthearted holiday (Christmas) musical it evolved into, but it would be something much more interesting to view. However, to review what might have been is a very foolish and self indulgent enterprise and this reviewer will do his best not to let his speculations influence the content of his critique.
The play takes place during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and begins in an orphanage where Annie (as portrayed by Mackenzie Maula) and her friends (as portrayed by Catherine Ferguson, Hava Parker, Angelyse and Anastacia Cordero, Ava Stripp, Hannah Rau, Jordyn Albanese, Chelsea Cirillo, Elizabeth and Jena Otting, Eirienn Byrne, Jadelyn VanWinkle, and Camile Famularo) lament about their lot in life with hopes for a better tomorrow. Annie tries to escape but her attempts are thwarted. However, her second try proves successful until she is apprehended by Lt. Ward of the police (as portrayed by David Schappert who also served as the Production Manager as well as performing in the roles of Wacky and the Cabinet Member) and returned to the orphanage. She faces a grim future gleefully described to her by the orphanage’s Matron Miss. Hannigan (as portrayed by Sarah McCarroll) until Grace Farrell (as portrayed by Kara Snyder) arrives to announce her employer Oliver Warbucks (as portrayed by Rod Forte) wishes to adopt a girl who uncannily fit’s the description to what is desired.
Annie is taken to her new home to meet her adoptive parent and his staff. “Daddy” Warbucks, Grace Farrell, and Annie soon go out and about throughout the streets of New York City during its Christmas celebrations in order to become acquainted with one another. “Daddy” Warbucks become deeply fond of his new charge and seeks to give her a gift of a new locket. However, upon an attempt to replace her old locket with the new one, he discovers the locket Annie presently has contains her only hope of seeing her birth parents again. So, “Daddy” Warbucks enlists the help of the F. B. I. and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (as portrayed by Dante) himself to help find them. He offers a large reward and is soon inundated with people falsely claiming to be Annie’s parents.
Two of these imposters are a couple known as Rooster (as portrayed by Jim Lynch) who is Miss. Hannigan’s brother and his girlfriend Lilly (as portrayed by Sara Ferguson). They devise a scheme to con “Daddy” Warbucks into giving them the reward by posing as Annie’s parents and presenting him with fraudulent birth documents. They illicit the help of Miss. Hannigan who provides them with information about Annie only the orphanage knows. Thus the perfect plan to set the three on “Easy Street” is put into effect until the discovery the fate of Annie’s true parents are revealed by the president and the F. B. I. The three swindlers are incarcerated and Annie is officially adopted by “Daddy” Warbucks. Merry Christmas.
The production is a nicely done one but this reviewer would not consider it one of the Shawnee Playhouse’s best. There were some unevenness in the acting quality and some of the musical effects made it difficult to hear the spoken dialogue. However, the sound system connected to the actors were turned up when they began to sing. This was a bit bothersome to this reviewer as it almost indicated the songs of the musical was deemed more important than the spoken dialogue. However, this was not the case throughout the play and it’s story was conveyed adequately.
The cast of this production of “Annie” consisted of several main characters (who were mentioned earlier in this review) and quite a number of ensembles. These ensembles featured the talents of Michael Marone, Bridgitte, Krystal, Cory, and Richard Endrulat, Karen Doherty Raub, Marty Courtney, Sean Mc Farlane, Shannon Christmann, Amy Hayakawa, Michelle Handy, Stacey Mattern, Joseph Ambrosia, Maddy Ledergerber, Annalee Marine Paige, Julie Albritton, Samantha Wagner, Elizabeth Wagner, Mira Hartshorn, and Christopher Kirkwood. Other actors appearing in the production were Luke Swierczek as Drake the Butler and Zeus as Sandy the dog.
For this reviewer, this production of Annie seemed be a bit mundane one until the introduction of the Rooster and Lilly characters. The actors portraying them led the play to a more enjoyable space through their antics and approach to life which reflected their criminality. It was like taking a breath of deviant fresh air in an otherwise wholesome holiday family experience. This didn’t lift the entire production from its#humaneness, but it almost did.
The Shawnee Playhouse production of “Annie” by Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin was Directed by Carmela Guiteras Mayo and Staged Managed by Amanda Malinowski (who also served as a Sound Technician) as assisted by Emily Heller and Natalie Price. Amy Rau served the production as its Music Director with Kyle Donahue on Keyboards. Lou Grillo served the production as Lighting and Sound Technician while Emily Cioc served as an additional Lighting Technician. Missy Benefield served as the production’ costumer while Adam and Philip Benefield served as the production’s Dog Wrangler. The Shawnee Playhouse producers are Ginny and Charlie Kirkwood with Midge McClosky serving as the playhouse’s Executive Director. The Box Office Manager is Mary Horn as assisted by Barbara Ross, Christina McManus, Pam Hudak, and Ariel Hudak. Becky Haskell serves as The Shawnee Playhouse’s Sales and Marketing Director.
Although the this production of “Annie“ and maybe the play itself was not this reviewer‘s cup of tea, there were some aspects to the presentation that made the evening an enjoyable one. Some may find such aspects worth the price of admission while other won’t. If one likes wholesome family fare, then the play is worth the fee. If not, one might want to look up the original comic strip on the internet. You may find it interesting what they published in the funny papers.
This production of “Annie” continues its run at The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA until August 27th. Their current productions being presented at the theater are “River’s Edge: The Story of Shawnee,” “Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sister” until September 3rd, and “Nunsense 2: The Second Coming” until September 4th, along with their Children’s Theater productions of “Disney’s Alice in Wonderland” being presented until August 26th and “Schoolhouse Rock, JR.” being presented until August 27th. The Shawnee Playhouse upcoming presentations and productions include their Center Stage Players Productions of “Actor‘s Choice/Director‘s Cut” September 9th - 18th and “Postmortem” September 23rd - October 23rd.
Those who enjoy the Passionate Art Lover level of membership in The Forwardian Arts Society are offered a $3.00 discount off the admission fee of The Shawnee Playhouse Productions (excluding Children Theatrical Productions and those presented by non Shawnee Production Companies). Please Explore The Shawnee Playhouse Website at www.theshawneeplayhouse.com or call 570-421-5093 for more information about their productions and to reserve your ticket.
Photograph provided by The Shawnee Playhouse and depicts Mackenzie Maula as Annie and Maddy Ledergerber as Molly.