Children's Theatre at Casa Manana
Director - Joe Sturgeon
Music Director - Sheilah Walker
Choreographer - Jeremy Dumont
Scenic Designer - Winston Ragle
Costume Designer - Tammy Spencer
Lighting Designer - Samuel Rushen
This musical is double cast. The review is for the cast listed as Cast B.
Annie ? Avery Presson
Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks - Brian Mathis
Miss Hannigan - Jennifer Boswell
Grace Farrell/Apple Seller - Laura Stratton
Rooster Hannigan/Dog Catcher/Fred - Christopher J. Deaton
Lily St. Regis/Star-to-Be/Mary/Sophie the Kettle - Aubrey Adams
Drake/Mr. Bundles McCloskey/ Eddie/ FDR - Doug LoPachin
Mrs. Pugh/Patrolwoman Ward/ Ensemble - Julie Rhodes
Artie/Louie Howe/ Bert Healy/Ensemble - Cooper Rodgers
Mrs. Greer/Ensemble - Taylor Hammit
Annette/Ensemble - Addie Presson
Cecille/Ensemble - Sydney Abbott
Duffy - Emma Lord
July - Morgan Richards
Kate - Sarah Youngblood
Molly - Lee Rodenbaugh
Tessie - Brooke Verbois
Orphans - Tiffany Calhoun, Rachel Browning, Anna Taylor, Asriyah Neff
Reviewed Performance 4/29/2012
Reviewed by Kayla Barrett, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I'm sure most of you are familiar with the timeless classic Annie, the musical that tells the rags-to-riches story of an orphan girl. We've all heard the term "hard-knocks" and most have probably even heard bits or renditions of "Tomorrow" or "Hard-Knock Life" from commercials or movies. Based on Harold Gray's comic strip Little Orphan Annie, the musical is a depression-era story that many artists have referenced for similar struggles in current times. Rapper Jay-Z more recently makes heavy use of samples from the Broadway cast album's version of "Hard-Knock Life" in his single of the same title. Younger generations might even remember the song best from Austin Powers' Goldmember when Dr. Evil and Mini Me perform the popular hip-hop version. Annie has often been criticized as being overly idealistic and even sappy. Love it or hate it, Annie is a crucial part of American pop culture that will continue to be around for as long as the American economy
continues to be a relevant topic.
Casa Ma?ana presents us with Annie Jr., a shortened version of the original musical specially made to be performed by youngsters. Directors, designers and actors collaborate to create a memorably heartwarming experience. Scenic Designer Winston Ragle pays homage to the original comic with two larger than life Little Orphan Annie comic strips bordering the stage. The bunk beds, taxi cabs and even Sandy the dog are large two-dimensional cartoon cut-outs. The scrim is lit with orange and pink lights representative of a sunset. Lighting Designer Samuel Rushen works closely with Ragle to create a New York skyline complete with lit up skyscraper building cut-outs. Costume Designer Tammy Spencer dresses the orphans in muted colors of multi layered bloomers, gowns and aprons. Rooster wears a fitted blue button- down shirt with suspenders, tie and fedora.
Throughout the musical the company acts as a whole. Ensemble work is incredible as all of the actors display their talents and collaborate beautifully. Many gifted voices grace the stage to create one nice sound.
The spunky title role is played by Avery Presson who sings with a strong clear voice. Presson creates a loveable and sympathetic Annie who is continuously optimistic. Annie attempts to run away from the orphanage to find her long-lost parents and quickly gets returned, but not before singing a heartwarming "Tomorrow". Presson fills the theatre with her voice when she belts. She leads an adorable group of rag-tag orphans in a performance of "Hard Knock Life" that doesn't disappoint. Jeremy Dumont's choreography stands out as a dozen little ragamuffins boisterously bang buckets, scrub the floor and twirl around with mops. One of the orphans gleefully imitates Miss Hannigan as the others toss her into a laundry cart and spin her around the stage.
Jennifer Boswell plays the frazzled, flask-swigging matriarch of the orphanage Miss Hannigan. She is not forceful with the role and does not evoke hatred. Rather, Boswell presents Miss Hannigan lightly; an inconsiderate nuisance. In fact, one might even feel sympathy for the awkward and overwhelmed woman. While Boswell significantly downplays the wretched Hannigan, we never doubt her as the antagonist. She occasionally screeches orders at the children and offers them only "cold mush" for breakfast. Her jaded performance of "Little Girls" is quite funny.
On her outing, Annie comes across a group of shabby adults living in "Hooverville" shacks on the street. They moan and groan about the economy and sarcastically thank the former President in "We'd Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover". The voices are professionally polished and the interaction between the derelict adults and positive orphan is engaging. A vagrant tells Annie he's got nothing in his pocket, another says his hands are cold. Annie's response: "Good thing ya got pockets!" In this scene, the destitute learn from a child that there is always something to be grateful for.
Not long after Annie returns to her unkempt life at Hannigan's, she steals the heart of Grace Farrell. Laura Stratton plays Farrell, local billionaire Mr. Warbuck's assistant. For the Christmas holiday, she is to find an orphan to take to the Warbucks mansion to share the holidays with them. Of course, Annie is chosen and we all know the story that follows. Brian Mathis is Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks who, reluctant at first, falls hard for Annie's charms. Mathis plays the strong but sensitive father figure. He and Stratton showcase their vocal talents as they sing "N.Y.C." Mathis is so likeable, that the audience can't help but hope that Annie's parents are never discovered so that the orphan and the sweet-hearted billionaire can be a family at last.
Christopher J. Deaton is Miss Hannigan's sleazy brother, Rooster. He and girlfriend Lily St. Regis, who is played by Aubrey Adams create a hilariously disreputable couple. Before there was Snooki and Jionni, there was Lily and Rooster. Adams gives Lily an obnoxious high-pitched laugh and slutty demeanor. Deaton has Rooster slither around accentuating phrases with a phony distinguished accent sure to impress the ladies. Tacky, despicable and absurd, the two create perfect sidekicks to act in Miss Hannigan's vile schemes.
While most everyone has seen this excessively idealistic musical, it was obvious that the majority of children eagerly watching in the seats around me had not. They may not understand topics about recession or the growing wealth gap, but they can understand Annie's message of hope and optimism. During the Great Depression, when dreams were largely deflated, Annie reminds America to look to brighter days. Current struggles can always be applied to Annie's journey. When you are having a bad day, just think: the sun will come out tomorrow.
Children's Theatre at Casa Manana
3101 West Lancaster Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas 76107
Runs through May 20th
Fridays at 7:00pm, Saturdays at 1:00pm and 5:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm
Tickets are $12.00 - $18.00 and purchased online will incur a Ticketmaster fee.
For information and tickets go to www.casamanana.org
You can also purchase tickets through Casa Manana's Box Office at 1.817.332.2272 between 10 am and 4 pm, Monday - Friday.