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'Annie' to Open at Three Notch Theatre
Lexington Park, MD - 7/25/2012
By Ellynne Brice Davis
The smash Broadway musical (and subsequent hit movie) “Annie”- with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, book by Thomas Meehan - opens at the Three Notch Theatre in Lexington Park this week. Performances run from July 27 through August 12 on Thursday, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3:30 p.m.
The familiar depression-era rags-to-riches story of “little orphan Annie” is still relevant in today’s world with its subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – commentary on political and economic issues along with its enduring optimistic outlook.
Act I opens with the haunting notes of the solo trumpet (played by Amanda Ansalvish) introducing a snippet of the iconic song “Tomorrow.” The orchestra joins in for the rousing overture as eight orphans take their places on sleeping mats in the half-light. The overture is followed by a spirited fight among the girls which comes to an end shortly after the red-headed Annie (Lauren Heibel) makes her first entrance, calming her little friend Molly in the poignant ballad “Maybe,” in which she displays her youthful, natural, soprano voice and excellent diction.
It isn’t long before Julie Fox as Miss Hannigan breaks up this temporarily tranquil scene as she resumes terrorizing the orphans in her care. Then, Jennifer Morgan as Molly takes a turn at scene-stealing while the girls sing “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”
As Annie once again makes her escape from the orphanage in a never-ending effort to find her real parents (she’s wearing her half of the locket they’d left with her 10 years ago) she meets up with another scene-stealer – Shiloh (a four-footed newcomer to the Three Notch stage) as the dog, Sandy. Her rendition of “Tomorrow” does not disappoint; she and Sandy strike a picture-perfect pose after successfully convincing a police officer that Sandy is, indeed, her dog and not a stray.
Together, Annie and Sandy wander through Hooverville and join the excellent singing ensemble in “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover”.
Back at the orphanage, Miss Hannigan sings “Little Girls” in a vivacious interpretation of this song with appropriate histrionics. Once Annie has returned, Rebecca Raymond (demonstrating a lovely singing voice throughout plus exquisitely sophisticated characterization) as Grace Farrell, private secretary to Oliver Warbucks, enters with an offer from her employer to host an orphan at his home for two weeks for Christmas. And off Annie goes to meet her destiny.
The Warbucks mansion set is beautifully decorated (Stephanie Taubert is props master) and lit (David Kyser, lighting designer). The best joke of the entire evening occurs just after Paul Rose’s entrance as Warbucks as he responds to Grace’s report that several people have telephoned in his absence, including Harpo Marx. Warbucks asks, “What did he want?” and Grace replies, “He didn’t say.” The entire Warbucks staff welcomes Annie in “I Think I’m Going to Like it Here.” This scene gradually segues into “N.Y.C.” in which Mr. Rose reveals a most pleasing singing voice. The ensemble is effective as it strikes a tableau in the background. I especially enjoyed Stacey Mulrooney’s exuberant featured solo in this number.
Meanwhile, back at the orphanage again…Miss Hannigan fusses with Molly as Grace appears with the news that Warbucks now wants to adopt Annie. Once Grace leaves, Miss Hannigan’s ne’er-do-well brother, Rooster (Ryan Hancock), shows up with his “New Joisey” girlfriend, Lily St. Regis (Alina Stone). The sensual singing and dancing by Miss Stone along with the standout performance by Hancock during this number and the antics of Ms. Fox combine to make this trio’s “Easy Street” easily the musical highlight of Act. I. (Hancock will be remembered for his portrayal of the shy and modest Charlie Brown in last summer’s Three Notch Theatre production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. He is anything but shy and modest in his ingenious portrayal of Rooster).
But at the Warbucks mansion, Annie reject’s Oliver’s adoption offer as she still holds out hope of finding her real parents. Warbucks rises to the occasion and promises to help her in this endeavor. Annie surrenders her locket to Warbucks to aid in the search for her parents as the ensemble chimes in with reassurances (“You Won’t Be an Orphan for Long”). Warbucks closes Act I with the wistful observation that “finding them” means “losing her.”
The orchestra plays “N.Y. Entr’acte” at the close of the Intermission, notable for the solo violin of Michael Cahall.
Act II opens during a radio station broadcast where Warbucks announces that he is offering a fifty-thousand-dollar reward to Annie’s parents if they come forward to claim her. Rebecca Masters and Mulrooney sing a hilarious toothpaste commercial duet and other ensemble members also get a chance to shine here (Matthew Dowdle with a hand puppet, Marty Bell on tap shoes, Rausch with a mask, and Steve Fogle as the announcer).
Listening to the broadcast at the orphanage, the girls break into their own reprise of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” after which Lily and Rooster approach Miss Hannigan with a fool-proof plan to impersonate Annie’s parents and collect the reward; Annie herself is “disposable” to them. And of course, then they’ll all be on “Easy Street”.
Warbucks enlists the help of President Roosevelt. Rausch, who portrays several characters in the course of the musical, does a star turn with his affable, sensitive portrayal of this historic figure. He encourages his entire staff to join with Annie in singing “Tomorrow” resulting in a truly inspiring ensemble moment (with Stacey Mulrooney, Steve Fogle, Marty Bell, Dawn Weber, and Matthew Dowdle).
Annie and Warbucks are summoned back to the mansion by a message from Grace and learn that the FBI’s Elliot Ness has traced Annie’s treasured locket to Utica, N.Y. where it was manufactured by the thousands; the possibility of finding her parents is remote. In this Christmas Eve scene, Rose shows off his soft, high singing to great advantage as he pensively confesses that “Something Was Missing” before he found Annie. And the adoption is now “on” again.
He continues with “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” but interrupting the celebration party are Lily and Rooster who produce the “match” for Annie’s locket (which of course, they’ve taken from Miss Hannigan who’s kept the other half all along). They convince everyone that they are indeed Mr. and Mrs. Mudge – Annie’s real parents – and they have her birth certificate to prove it. Their intention is to use the reward money to raise Annie in the New Jersey countryside on their pig farm. All seems lost until the President arrives and promises to investigate.
Christmas morning at the mansion dawns sadly with Annie descending the staircase holding on to her suitcase to await the arrival of her “parents.” But, as luck would have it in the world of musical-comedy, the President relays information from a report personally supplied to him by FBI Director Edgar Hoover that has determined that Annie’s parents passed away some time ago. Miss Hannigan and her entourage of orphans arrive for the theatrical denouement, followed by Lily and Rooster as Mr. and Mrs. Mudge as the stage is filled with color (costumes by Marie Waltrip). The “jig is definitely up” and all is resolved happily. The orphans join Warbucks, Grace, and Annie in singing “A New Deal for Christmas.” The musical finale grows to include the ensemble and Sandy is re-united with Annie.
The ebullient company of orphans includes Alyssa Bolton, Janeth Campbell, Lauren Drewello, Suzanne Fox, Emma Gilligan, Reed Marie Grubbs, and Tia LePore in addition to Miss Heibel and Miss Morgan. All exhibit a sound theatrical base of discipline and attention to their craft as they sing and dance their way through life under Miss Hannigan’s guardianship. Each young thespian experiences a delightful opportunity for a moment in the spotlight.
The word “versatile” does not begin to describe the performances within the ensemble: each member plays several different characters during the course of the show with subtle traits of individuality in each role. The blend of singing voices (listen for Dawn Weber’s high notes) and the clever choreography (by Alexandra Szewczyk) enliven the stage.
This marks the fourth production of “Annie” for retired St. Mary’s County Public Schools Music Director Diane Trautman (also doubling on the piano). During her 33-year music teaching career at Margaret Brent Middle School she directed both the music and the acting for three separate runs of “Annie.” It is her commendable feat of coordinating the way-offstage orchestra with the onstage singers – a nearly impossible task in the face of the configuration of the theatre’s layout (no orchestra pit and no direct sight-lines) – that contributes to the show’s success. Rounding out the orchestra are Pam Ansalvish and Carrie Barrett on flute, Jessica Kehrer on clarinet and tenor sax, Lauren O’Donnell with percussion and piccolo, Matt Pearson on drums, and Robert Wirth on the trombone and saxophone.
And Director Tessa Silvestro has done a masterful job of assembling a multi-talented cast and crew. Silvestro, currently drama teacher at St. Mary’s Ryken High School, has a definite knack for working with a variety of age groups, eliciting quality performances from each and every member of the acting troupe, ensuring set and lighting transitions were handled smoothly, and overseeing the myriad details involved in a production of this type.
Producer is Anne Hammett; Sarah Meador is stage manager. Dircetor Silverstro is also the set designer.
A word should be said about the professional quality of the “Annie” program book, as well – thanks to PR Committee Chair Emily Funderburk, Graphic Artist Stacey Mulrooney, and photographer Greg Rumpf.
Other able crew members are Assistant Costume Designer Wanda Eberwien, and Master Carpenter Jeremy Leissner who was assisted in set construction by Chris Drewello, Tricia Drewello, Lauren Drewello, Julie Mae H., Tim Joyce, Jennifer Morgan, Linda Morgan, Rebecca Raymond, Tessa N. Silvestro, Jamie Szewcayk, and Rick Thompson.
There were a few hit-and-miss spots in the rehearsal at Press Night. Some props failed to materialize, lines were occasionally dropped, and there were instances of the orchestra overpowering both youthful and mature voices, and being out of sync with the performers (several of the leads are wearing “walking mikes” as an aid to their own amplification). However, it is a tribute to the entire cast that everyone remained in character, and worked around these minor incidents. As there were still two additional rehearsals left before opening, there was ample time for some of these slight flaws to be corrected.
For more information on the Newtowne Players at the Three Notch Theatre’s current production of “Annie” – or on any future productions – you may contactwww.newtowneplayers.org, or www.facebook.com/NewtownePlayers
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