The Column Online



Written by Thomas Meehan, Music by Charles Strouse,
Lyrics by Martin Charnin

Plaza Theatre Company

Director - Taffy Geisel
Music Director - Joey Geisel
Choreographer - Tabitha Barrus
Stage Manager - Sam Arias
Costume Design - Tina Barrus
Light Design - G. Aaron Siler
Sound Design - G. Aaron Siler
Set Design - JaceSon Barrus
Wall Mural Painting - Charles J. Conti
Sound Board Operator - Cameron Barrus

CAST - Please note - several parts are double-cast:

Annie - Rachel Browning, Taylor O'Toole
Oliver Warbucks - Tyler Cox, Jay Lewis
Miss Hannigan - Caroline Rivera, Darcy Farrington
Grace Farrell - Jill Baker, Denise Fisher
Rooster - JaceSon Barrus
Lilly - Tina Barrus
Roosevelt - Doug Henry
Corrie - Katherine Balaban, Tess Scarborough
DeeDee - Allyson Orr, Annie Rheuark
Duffy - Emmeline Sullivan, Khloe Rooke
July - Bryanna Levac, Hannah Tarron
Kate - Julie Hall
Molly - Mimi Barrus, Kylie Scarborough
Pepper - Taylor O'Toole, Noelle Mitchell
Ruthie - Brynn Fisher, Paige Moore
Tessie - Eden Barrus, Grace Mitchell
Bert Healy/Harold Ickes - Josh Leblo, Joey Geisel
Bonnie Boylan, Mrs. Pugh - Hannah Midkiff
Star-To-Be/Ronnie Boylan - Emily Warwick
Drake/Mr. Bundles/Hull - Jay Lewis, Kyle Scarborough
Mrs. Greer/Frances Perkins - Stacey Greenawalt King,

Reviewed Performance: 12/1/2011

Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

It is considered bad form for a critic to pre-conceive one's review before seeing the work in question. Admittedly, I approached my critique of Plaza Theatre Company's musical production of Annie, script written by Thomas Meehan and music composed by the great Charles Strouse in collaboration with lyricist Martin Charnin, with great trepidation.

Annie is a Christmas-themed Broadway classic that has entertained audiences the world over for decades. The show has garnered a recent resurgence over the past few years at professional companies and community theatres alike; it is especially relevant in today's economically challenging times. My trepidation was based on a sole aspect of the show. What would I write of all the young kids playing Annie and her merry band of orphaned friends? How would I compose
a constructive thought without crushing their young, eager spirits to perform if the quality of their performances simply wasn't good?

I could not imagine but I am pleased to say that I did not have to cross that bridge. As directed by Taffy Geisel, the children of this happy musical opened the show's first 10 minutes with a joy and gusto that infused a contagious spirit over the audience. Everything came together in the first, big showstopper "Hard Knock Life". Lighting designer G. Aaron Siler basked the actors in warm colors that complemented the various brownish and grayish hues of
the girls' impoverished costumes designed by Tina Barrus. Tabitha Barrus's choreography of their mop and bucket, dance movements came alive with electric doggedness in the hands of these capable girls as they harmonized cheerfully in tune and with aplomb thanks to the musical direction of Joey Geisel.

This number set the tone for the first act, anchored by the lovely Rachel Browning as Annie. She had a suitable, spunky spirit and little doe eyes that she convincingly used to her advantage to convey to the audience her sincere optimism that "Tomorrow" the sun, would indeed, truly come up. Ms. Browning did not always have musical notes to sing within grasp of her range, but she had a lilting frailty to her voice that worked naturally in her favor.

The wretched Miss Hannigan runs the orphanage where these girls reside and she was played by the commanding Caroline Rivera. Ms. Rivera is a professional opera singer by trade and it showed. Not only did she exhibit tremendous breath control in her hilarious and rousing "Little Girls" number, but this same skill benefited her greatly with her uncanny, comedic timing throughout.

There were two other reasons that helped to make the first half of Annie so enjoyable. Their names are JaceSon and Tina Barrus as Rooster and his girlfriend Lily, stumbling upon the orphanage late in Act I as old friends of Ms. Hannigan's. They are interested in scheming to profit from billionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, played by Tyler Cox, who has since taken Annie under his wing. Mr. Barrus is utterly committed to the portrayal of this charming and
oily snake, and Ms. Barrus channels Betty Boop in a sly, comic confection that was a perfect match for Rooster. JaceSon Barrus' soaring baritone voice took off as he led a vocal trio with Ms. Barrus and Ms. Rivera in the playful song, "Easy Street".

Perceptive readers will note that I have spent much emphasis on the first act. The 2nd act of this musical did not hold up as well but I'm not so apt to point my finger at Plaza. In fact, the second act is peppered with many lovely moments: Josh Leblo as Bert Healy started off things quite nicely, singing "Fully Dressed", Julie Hall was priceless as the foot stomping adversary to Ms. Hannigan, and little Mimi Barrus stole the show on several occasions as the youngest of the lot, to name just a few.

The restrictions of this theatre-in-the-round allowed the discerning critic or audience member to see detailed continuity errors that would not be as noticeable on a proscenium stage. Annie's half locket handed down from her parents was clearly bright, shiny and new, and not the old, hanging by a thread relic that Oliver Warbucks observed. There was a lovely and sparkly costume
change by Annie into her red Christmas dress. I wanted Ms. Barrus' costume design to pop even more, but she also chose to clothe one of the servants in a maroon shade. Not quite the same shade of red but it did distract from Annie as the proper focus. Still, my hat went off to Ms. Barrus for creatively outfitting so many servants in various shades of white and gray. Not
particularly exciting colors, in theory, but it was what the costumes required and Ms. Barrus made it work with the added bonus of the lighting and choreography. It all made "I Think I'm Going to Like It Here" and "New Deal for Christmas" pop visually.

These were minor quibbles. However, the true issue with the second act was the story itself. The first act made some great promises to the characters' wish fulfillment and the second act seemed to give more of the same with coda after coda. Of the seven songs in the second half, three of them are reprisals. The business of the missing locket and Rooster and Lily's scheme to pose as Annie's parents was handled so quickly that it was clear that the original author's
intent was never really concerned with the story or any other plot machinations geared toward the central themes. All that was really left to fill this void was to see how long director Taffy Geisel could sustain the happy good will of the sunny first act.

This could have been achieved with many other things that worked so well in the second act, but one element seemed to be holding this production back... a true connection to the Oliver Warbucks character. Mr. Cox performance was game enough, but often his performance was very tentative and perhaps made his character slightly too befuddled. "Daddy" Warbucks has always been a bit of an
eccentric but he's also a bull-dozer of good cheer by the force of his sheer will. Mr. Cox perhaps had this very goal, but the performance was so internalized that it never found its way out of his shell.

The best example of this came at the end of the second act when he declared to Annie that he would find her parents. The mistake was in seeing him think too much and it slowed down the pacing of many of the scenes that he occupied. Mr. Warbucks is a quick and impulsive man with a good heart and it's the reason why he's a billionaire but I'm afraid this portrayal was too cautious to truly connect with this audience member. I did give props for his musical number
"N.Y.C." Mr. Cox was not necessarily a musical actor but he sold the song with his Rex Harrison speak singing and showed a confidence that I would have liked to have seen more of.

I am recommending Annie. The first act worked as solid entertainment, and although the second act paled in comparison, there were enough bright spots for me to consider it a job well done.

SPECIAL NOTE: As I wrote my notes during intermission and after the show, all told, three patrons asked me what I was up to. When I told them I was writing a critique for The Column, they then proceeded to give me their opinion. All three of them loved the show.

Plaza Theatre Company, 111 S. Main Street, Cleburne, TX 76033
Runs through December 23th

Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm

Special added shows on Tuesday, Dec 20th, Wednesday, Dec 21st at 7:30pm

Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, $12 for children.

For tickets, call 817-202-0600, Monday ? Saturday, 10am to 6pm
For more information, visit