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“Supertrue” at the Know Theatre: Dreams Unravel, but Love Remains

Review by Liz Eichler of SuperTrue: Know Theatre

James Creque in “SuperTrue”

Know Theatre once again proves it is the playground for theatre in Cincinnati, producing the new work SuperTrue by Karen Hartman. It is both a loving paean and a mournful dirge of getting older and not achieving your goals. It is uneven, but has moments of such clear understanding of 21st century struggles, that it will stay with you.

You will be moved by the puppetry, with the simplicity and tenderness of both Erika Kate MacDonald’s design and Elizabeth Chinn Malloy’s interpretation.  Reminiscent of Indonesian shadow puppets and Julie Taymor’s work, the bare essentials are used to successfully manipulate an audience’s feelings.

Martin (James Creque), a 40-something computer programmer is birthing his own new app, while bitterly working an hourly wage for a young “frat boss.” Martin has some great dry lines: “What’s the difference between Amazon and the mob? Scale. What’s the difference between a realist and a crank? Time.”  His wife Janelle (Nicole Jeannine Smith) struggles with her infertility, his absence, and the ghost of a prior crisis– “for a healthy white person who went to college, you’ve been dealt a lot of Job-like sh*t,” Martin acknowledges.  They’ve come to a rustic cabin in the Catskill Mountains to escape the stress of the city and roofing issues on their house.  Janelle both welcomes and detests the cabin life, fending off a persistent deer, (or has it always been a local child? We do not know.) We see Janelle as unhinged, wanting to nurture, but not able to let go of fear, paranoia, and pain.

The language of the play is staccato and modern. There are multiple threads woven with mixed success through the story, but one consistent one is “love outside your tribe.” Director Holly L. Derr guides the performers, but perhaps due to an emergency actor replacement (the role of Martin is being shared with Derek Snow, and Creque came to replace him only last week), the rhythm and pace seemed off, especially in the beginning; but you will be mesmerized by the end.

The scenery is an imaginative, simple interpretation of a cabin in the woods, with green t-shirts on clotheslines representing the trees.  Doug Borntrager creates a lovely soundscape, subtly reminding us we are in the woods, and Andrew Hungerford’s lighting reminds us we are in the computer age.

The show is 80-minutes, no intermission, and runs through February 10.  For tickets go to www.knowtheatre.com or call 513-300-5669.

Carnegie’s “Wonka” Satisfies with Sweet Nostalgia

Review by Hannah Gregory of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Carnegie Theatre
Even before the show starts, there is a sense that Willy Wonka aims to satisfy your taste buds while simultaneously claiming your heart. The bar includes sweet treats, a themed drink, and a candy raffle from Bellevue staple Witt’s End Candy Emporium––a well executed collaboration between two local organizations.  
 
From the moment the show begins––with dollops of color illuminating the house and bubbles magically floating into the crowd––smiles are imminent and remain so for the duration of the performance, which clocks in at a clean two hours. The story is a familiar one, close to many of our hearts––five lucky children win a contest by finding a golden ticket in a candy bar wrapper and are subsequently swept into Willy Wonka’s mysterious Chocolate Factory for a tour. As naughty children disappear one by one, the only one left at the end of the tour is our hero, Charlie Bucket.
 
The show begins with Willy Wonka (played by Dain Alan Paige) onstage alone, giving the audience exposition about the tale that is about to unfold. Wonka stays with us throughout the show as our narrator, an interesting choice for writers Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald. During the “The Golden Age of Chocolate,” children from the show’s ensemble gleefully make their way through the theatre, tossing candy at patrons. I loved it, but be aware that sugary (and totally edible) elements might be (gently) hurled your way.  
 
We move along through the show, enjoying classics such as “The Candyman,” a highlight that conveys the pure joy of sinking your teeth into candy; “Cheer Up Charlie,” which boasts some lovely ending harmony; and Veruca Salt’s tenacious tirade “I Want It Now.” (A side note: The Carnegie utilized tracks for this production––meaning the music was all pre-recorded. While this keeps the show clipping along, it can also prevent the scenes from hitting their stride, leaving the actors and the audience feeling a bit cheated from emotional moments.) Other songs aren’t so familiar, like “I Eat More,” which was hindered by the track, making breathing and phrasing a task for performers and “On TV,” another quick problematic ditty that left actors switching octaves due to the song falling in an odd key.
 
The show is fast paced, keeping the audience on their toes, but leaving characters feeling a bit lackluster––a fault that falls on the writers’ shoulders. Though Cade C. Harvey, who plays Charlie, boasts impressive vocal talents, Charlie’s emotional journey plays like an afterthought to the plot; we never see any true sadness or disappointment from the young Bucket when he is foiled twice before finding the final golden ticket. However, Harvey will no doubt flourish as he grows as an actor. He has a likeable onstage presence and pairs well with Grandpa Joe (played by Don Wong, who brings a scrappy jolliness to his character).   
 
Other standout actors include Dain Alan Paige, whose Wonka was dazzlingly unique and refreshing, pervading the character with a powerful warmth and whimsy, as well as Sean Mette as Phineas Trout, who nailed the news anchor persona and was simply a joy to watch. Liam Sweeney as Mike Teavee and Laura Dinn as Violet Bauregarde boast great acting chops and commitment to character; keep an eye on these two, as their talent promises that they will surely continue to grace Cincinnati stages. The winners round out with Christian Arias as Augustus Gloop and Gabrielle Tollefson as Veruca Salt, both solid performers. As an ensemble, from the youth ensemble to the bedridden grandparents, the entire cast works incredibly well together. The final tableaus of Act I and Act II are both visually and aurally beautiful, full, and rich––I only wish there could have been more moments of full ensemble singing and interaction.
 
The set, designed by Tyler Gabbard, effectively transfers us from Charlie’s drab and cramped home to the colorful world of Wonka’s candy factory. Larry Csernik tackles the lighting, which is magical, especially during the opening sequence and the famous boat scene. Costumes by Josh Newman are visually striking but at times don’t make sense, particularly in the case of Mike Teavee, whose ensemble embodies the contemporary California teen, and his mother (a hilarious Emily Martin), who is dressed to the nines in 1960’s garb. Idiosyncrasies like these can be confusing for an audience member––though a hunch is that the goal was to convey the parents stuck in old fashioned ways.
 
All in all, Willy Wonka, directed by The Carnegie’s fearless and bubbly Theatre Director Maggie Perrino, is as much for kids as it is for adults looking to stroll down memory lane. A few lighting elements may scare children, but nothing that should prevent them from enjoying the show. Bundle up and relish a wonderful night out at The Carnegie. Willy Wonka is running now through January 28. Snag your tickets by calling 859-957-1940 or by visiting thecarnegie.com.       

Carnegie’s “Willy Wonka” is Pure Imagination

Review by Jack Crumley of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka: The Carnegie

The annual family-friendly show at the Carnegie in Covington has begun, and this season’s production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka is a sweet treat for kids of all ages. This production is an adaptation of both the original book and the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder. It’s been adapted by Timothy McDonald and Leslie Bricusse, and Bricusse wrote all the music from the movie. It keeps all the songs you know, like “Pure Imagination” and “The Candy Man” while also adding a few new numbers, mostly character-based tunes for the different kids who tour the chocolate factory. (Fun fact: author Roald Dahl was so upset by the songs added and changes made to the film adaptation that he disowned it.)

Plot-wise, this show keeps the story from the film: young and poor Charlie Bucket is one of five lucky children to win a tour of the mysterious Wonka Chocolate Factory, led by the even more mysterious and whimsical Willy Wonka. As the tour progresses, the other children fall victim to their own bad attitudes, poor parenting, and misbehaviors until there’s only Charlie left. In the end, Wonka reveals it was all a test and Charlie wins ownership of the factory itself.

In a word, this production is efficient. The play zips from one song and one scene to another, the kids and teens in the ensemble handle multiple backup roles, and rotating set pieces help make the most of Carnegie’s relatively small stage area.

Praise goes to the production team. Tyler Gabbard’s scenes have to follow some of the memorable set pieces in the movie, like an open field full of candy decorations and a chocolate river. Fittingly, the show relies on a fair amount of “pure imagination” from the audience to pull off some of the more extravagant moments. The wild boat ride, Charlie and Grandpa Joe floating after drinking soda, and the elevator ride in the sky all call on the audience to help fill in the more practical gaps. In many cases, this is helped along by Larry Csernik’s excellent (and colorful!) lighting design, specifically, the use of black light and neons. All the songs are sung to a pre-recorded music track, and I’m happy to say that Music Director Xan Jeffery’s cues and Eric Bardes sounds all hit perfectly with Bardes running the board. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen a “Special Effects” credit for a Carnegie show, and Christopher Martin’s work made the special moments jump out, complementing the work from departments. Special shout out also for Josh Newman’s costume design. Every one of the main characters’ looks was a perfect homage to the way they were captured on screen without being just straight copies. Director/Producer/Choreographer Maggie Perrino and Production Manager Bleu Pellman should be very proud of the entire production team and crew’s work.

The cast is led by Dain Alan Paige as Willy Wonka, who–when he’s not leading the tour or letting a naughty child teach themselves a lesson–also serves as an omniscient narrator for the audience. Paige, as Wonka, also goes undercover as the local candy man in Act I. He’s actually there when Charlie gets the fifth golden ticket, which changes Charlie’s victory from being rooted in just dumb luck to explicitly showing someone who noticed Charlie’s kindness all along. Paige has a clear crisp singing voice that has no problem hitting the high notes or projecting enough for everyone to hear.

In fact, all of the singing in this show is spot on. Cade C Harvey plays Charlie Bucket with all the earnestness and honesty the role calls for. He has a mature sounding voice for such a youthful look. His voice also blends well with Mr Bucket (played by Brian Anderson) when they sing “Think Positive.” And the whole Bucket family’s rendition of “Cheer Up Charlie” sounded nice as well.

The other kids on the Wonka tour all had good voices, and good looks (some of whom were a bit more updated from 1971). Augustus Gloop (Christian Arias)’s new character intro song was a fun, Bavarian-style tune about eating. Gabrielle Tollefson’s Veruca Salt went from posing smile to screaming demand effortlessly. The character of Violet Beauregarde, played by Laura Dinn, had a more interesting relationship with her mother (Leslie Hitch, coming off her hilarious turn as Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein at Covedale) than the way the Violet of the movie was portrayed with her father. Also, Dinn gets to have one of the better special effects/costume combos when she eats the gum that tastes like a meal and inflates into a blueberry. The role of Mike Teavee is updated the most. Instead of a cowboy-obsessed kid, Liam Sweeney’s Mike is more of an all-around, hipper, media consumer. His character has traded in fringe, snakeskin boots, and cap guns for denim, sunglasses, and an iPad. Kudos again to the production team for the way they handled the scene where he teleports into a TV.

Also, both the members of the Teen Ensemble and the Youth Ensemble did a great job. Like I said, the teens had multiple costume changes, and they all sounded great and brought a great energy to their group scenes. The Youth Ensemble gets to play, arguably, the most memorable characters from the movie: the Oompa Loompas! Every time one of the kids acts out on the Wonka tour, these eight actors come marching out to dance and sing the most haunting melody of the whole show, and they did a great job.

The only thing I was hungry for more of (other than candy the teens tossed into the audience in the opening number) was Paige’s Wonka. Not that I was looking for a two hour Gene Wilder impression, but Willy Wonka is such a BIG character with such tremendous swings in tone. I wanted him to be more colorful than his bright purple jacket.

For being in such a limited space, Willy Wonka at the Carnegie brings the charm and magic of the world that Roald Dahl created on the page in the 1960s and the music and color from cast and crew of the film in the 1970s. It’s a show recommended for all ages, but there are only so many tickets (in this case, they’re blue.) Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka plays Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday now through January 28. Tickets are available here.

WAITRESS is a Warm Slice of Sugary Goodness

Review by Liz Eichler of WAITRESS: Cincinnati Broadway Series

Desi Oakley in Broadway Series’ “Waitress”

In this January weather, go see WAITRESS, the musical now playing at the Aronoff, through January 21, not because it provides hummable tunes stuck in your head, but it provides memorable warmth stuck in your heart.

WAITRESS is the story of Jenna, a woman who’s had some hard knocks and made some questionable choices as she’s carving her path in the world, however, the one thing she does best–making pies–launches her from a dependent life, to one where she is in control of her own success and happiness. Caught in a loveless marriage and knocked up, she discovers a mutual attraction with her gynecologist! Bryan Fenkart, as Dr. Pomatter, the gynecologist Jenna falls for, is charmingly nerdy and Nick Bailey as Earl, her difficult husband, has a great rock and roll voice.

This is an empowering modern piece with modern complications. Written by Jessie Nelson, with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, it was inspired by a motion picture of the same name. The arrangements have a country feel, and they are varied and pleasant, but the focus is on feeling. The second act is stronger than the first: the first act introduces you to the “ingredients” of the musical, but the second act allows it to bake, and become warm and bubbly.

On opening night the audience loved “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” featuring the well-received Ogie (Jeremy Morse) and “She Used to Be Mine” where Jenna (Desi Oakley) sings from her heart and soul in a truly memorable number.

There appears to be a full range of understudies in the large ensemble. Audience favorites are Ryan Dunkirk as Cal, the diner chef; Lenne Klingaman as Dawn, Jenna’s nerdy friend; Charity Angel Dawson as Becky, Jenna’s sassy friend; Larry Marshall as Joe, the elderly diner owner; and Maeisha McQueen as the nurse with attitude.

The backdrop and scenery (Scott Pask) are lovely, but the pie props are magnificent. Make sure you plan time for a slice afterwards at your local diner.

For tickets contact www.cincinnatiarts.org.

Troubled Relationship Pie: A Review of the Broadway Series’s Production of “Waitress”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Waitress: Cincinnati Broadway Series

Lenne Klingaman and Jeremy Morse in Broadway Series’ “Waitress”

Troubled Relationships are the stock-in-trade for Broadway shows and Waitress, the latest production presented by Fifth-Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati Presented by Tri-Health, has plenty of troubled relationships.

Jenna (Desi Oakley) is a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner and is a master at making pies that have odd names (like “Troubled Relationship Pie”) that people love to eat.  However, she has to face her abusive husband, Earl (Nick Bailey), who monitors her every move and is intimidated by her success.  The musical becomes Jenna’s search to escape from Earl, all the while trying to deal with her pregnancy by Earl and her love for her gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart).

Based off the 2007 film of the same name, this is a down-to-earth story of people trying to make their way in the world.  It does not have an epic plot like some Broadway shows, but instead settles for the everyday triumphs and troubles of the people who inhabit Joe’s Pie Diner.  It is also unique in that the show itself was the first all-female created Broadway show that ended up being nominated for four Tony Awards.

The cast for this production is strong, with Desi Oakley being a standout.  She is able to deftly belt out such wonderful songs as “What Baking Can Do” and “She Used to be Mine.”  Oakley also has that down-home charm that makes the audience root for her throughout her relationship troubles.  You can feel for her struggles, making her triumph at the end all the sweeter.

Kudos also go to Byran Fenkart who plays Jenna’s star-crossed lover Dr. Pomatter.  Fenkart is a master at physical humor and it was delightful to see his dancing around the doctor’s office doing all sorts of antics as he is trying to hide his affair with Jenna from Nurse Norma (Maeisha McQueen).  McQueen’s expressions on trying to process the affair between Dr. Pomatter and Jenna are truly wonderful.

Two other standouts were Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and her eccentric boyfriend Ogie (Jeremy Morse).  Klingaman is wonderful, playing the lone misfit searching for love.  We sympathize with her plight and cheer when she finally meet Ogie.  Morse steals the show whenever he comes onstage. He is a force of nature and is truly wonderful to watch as he courts he beloved Dawn.

One of the joys of this musical was that the music itself was a cut above what is seen with your typical Broadway movie-musical.  Kudos to Sara Bareilles to create some wonderful memorable songs, like “She Used to be Mine” and “Everything Changes.”  These are some strong songs which hopefully will enter into the standard repertoire of Broadway songs sung in cabarets and revues.

In conclusion, Waitress is a delightful little show that will get audiences to cheer for the Jenna as she makes some difficult decisions and overcomes her Troubled Relationship Pie.  As a baker myself, I particularly loved the kitchen scenes where Jenna is a coming up with all of her different pie ideas.  It rang true to life, although I have never spontaneously burst into song while I bake.

Maybe I can try that the next time I bake a pie.

Waitress runs from January 9-21, 2018 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the Aronoff Center Box Office at (513) 621-2787 or by going to their website https://www.cincinnatiarts.org/events.  Buy your tickets early.  Opening night was fuller than normal and once word spreads about this show, it is almost certain to sell out.

 

Broadway Series’ “Waitress”, Initially Served Luke-warm, Comes Back Piping Hot

Review by Dr. Sheldon Polonsky of Waitress: Broadway in Cincinnati

Desi Oakley, Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman in “Waitress”

I confess that at intermission I was feeling on the fence about the Aronoff’s latest Broadway touring production, Waitress. The story, based on the 2007 independent movie of the same name, is charming enough: Jenna (Desi Oakley) is a small town waitress at a southern diner, trapped in a loveless marriage with her selfish and immature husband, Earl (Nick Bailey), but finds joy baking pies with creative names and ingredients reflective of her emotions and inner joys and struggles, like her “Betrayed By My Eggs” pie which she whips up when she discovers she has an unwanted pregnancy. Jenna yearns to get out of her current life by saving money to enter an upcoming baking contest, while at the same time entertaining an affair with her earnest but married gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart).

The first half of Waitress checked off all the musical theatre boxes, and did so well, with a talented, energetic cast, tuneful songs with clever lyrics, and plenty of well-timed comic touches. But somehow I couldn’t quite find its soul, and the story seemed somewhat shallow. Jenna’s pregnancy seemed like no more than a plot device, Earl‘s brutishness was glossed over and seemed to trivialize the real experience of domestic abuse, and as a physician myself I found myself squirming in my seat at the rather cavalier way an inappropriate in-office doctor/patient sexual encounter was portrayed. This is 2018, after all—did no one get the memo?
Suddenly, however, in the second half, the show decisively found its center. It was like the preheating timer had gone off on the oven and the real baking was beginning. Perhaps, even, the saccharine nature of the first half was a deliberate set-up. Actions began to have consequences and the facade of the musical theater conventions was lifted to reveal real people and problems. Old Joe, the curmudgeony owner and patron of the diner, became the show’s moral compass. If ultimately there was a contrived happy ending, it was none of the ones you were expecting and fairly inconsequential compared to the very genuine and spontaneous epiphany of empowerment, responsibility, and self-awareness that preceded it. Kudos to director Diane Paulus  (who also directed the recent Finding Neverland, and won a Tony for her revival of Pippin) for helping elevate this story to another level.
All of this was artfully conveyed by a top-notch cast. Desi Oakley, as Jenna,  of course, is the linchpin and in addition to having spectacular vocal ability was an engaging actress. The real charm of the show, though, was its large cast of quirky and endearing supporting characters, all of whom get their moments to steal the show. Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman, playing Jenna’s fellow waitresses, the wise-cracking Becky and the mousy Dawn, were thoroughly entertaining  (Klingaman‘s bio in the playbill states she had a record-breaking run as Hamlet in Colorado Shakes–that’s a performance I want to see!). Bryan Fenkart as Jenna’s doctor had perfect comic timing and also helped transcend his character’s initially buffoonish personality. Jeremy Morse as Ogie, Dawn’s boyfriend, brings the house down with his comic number.  Even Larry Marshall, as Joe, has a surprisingly tender and heartwarming number in the second half.
The music and lyrics, by Sara Bareilles, while not particularly memorable, are none the less joyous and evocative with some country/western and pop elements, powerfully performed by a wonderful  band who are included at various points on the set to good effect. The projection of the highway behind the diner, with its ever changing lighting reflecting the time of day, provides a poignant backdrop to Jenna’s community.
While researching the source movie, I was dismayed to read that writer, director and co-star Adrienne Shelly was murdered months before it premiered at the Sundance festival. This musical version of the movie, which was meant to be a love-letter to her own daughter, is a fitting tribute to a talent cut short all too soon. So here’s a tip for the tip jar—head over to the Aronoff for a big slice of Inspiration with a dollop of Hope and see Waitress.
Waitress runs through January 21st at the Aranoff center. Tickets are available at Broadway in
Cincinnati website, www.cincinnatiarts.org.

Finding “Neverwhere” in the Latest Know Theatre Production

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Neverwhere: Know Theatre

The holiday season is a time when Cincinnati theatres tend to produce short holiday plays that act as light theatrical bon-bons.

Not so with Know Theatre.

In a bold move, Know Theatre is producing Neverwhere, a sprawling epic stage adaptation of the Neil Gaiman BBC television mini-series that depicts the world of London Below, the area below the London that we know where there are rat-speakers, wayward angels, and floating markets.  Adaptor Robert Kauzlaric has skillfully created the vast world of London Below, capturing the vastness of the Gaiman’s imaginative world.

Neal Gaiman is best known for his Sandman comic book series, as well  young adult books such as Coraline and The Graveyard Book.  Gaiman likes to create dark worlds where good fights against evil against impossible odds.  In Neverwhere, Gaiman uses his dark talents to craft a tale that is essentially a coming of age story for the play’s main character Richard Mayhew (Rory Sheridan).

The play starts out with Mayhew living a successful life as a young businessman.  Mayhew’s life is turned upside down when he sees Door (Ernaisja Curry), lying unconscious in one of the London underground subway tunnels.  Taking Door back to his apartment, Mayhew is confronted by Mr. Croup (Sean P. Mette) and Mr. Vandemar (Dylan Shelton), two assassins who have come to complete their job of killing Door.  What happens next is a vast and epic tale better left to be savored on stage than paraphrased in this review.

Co-directors Andrew J. Hungerford (Know’s Producing Artistic Director) and Dan R. Winters (Know’s resident photographer) have assembled a strong cast and have skillfully led them through the multiplicity of scenes that occur throughout Neverwhere.  It was tour-de-force directing to make all the elements hang together and I applaud their efforts at tackling this challenging work.

Acting in this production was strong, led by Rory Sheridan as Richard Mayhew.  Sheridan goes through a large transformation in this play, turning from businessman to warrior, and he plays each stage of that transformation exceptionally well.  Sheridan was believable as Mayhew and was able to add in comic touches when called for in the script.

Speaking of comic touches, Sean P. Mette and Dylan Shelton played the assassins Messrs. Croup and Vandemar to perfection.  The roles, while eerily creepy and menacing, also have places for humor and both Mette and Shelton were able to deliver creepy and comedic equally well.  They almost acted as a deranged Laurel and Hardy comedy duo willing to kill at the slightest provocation.

Ernaisja Curry as Door and Jeremy Dubin as Marquis de Carabas were also strong.  Curry plays Door as a valiant, but vulnerable woman who is able to open doorways to anywhere she wishes.  She has nicely paired with Sheridan’s Mayhew and the two have a good chemistry onstage.  Similarly, Dubin’s Marquis was full bombast, belligerence, and brilliance, a wonderful character acted by an equally wonderful actor.

Scenic Designer Sarah Beth Hall creates a structural steel outline of the London subway system that transforms itself to any number of different ways within the play.  There was great ingenuity in how some of the stage elements moved and it was delightful seeing what would happen next with the stage.

Perhaps this play is a perfect holiday offering by Know because this is a play that keeps on giving.  It runs three hours long, so this is not an evening of theatre for someone wanting a light theatrical bon-bon.  However, this is one of the better productions that I’ve seen at Know over the last few years, so it is must-see for anyone serious about theatre.

Neverwhere runs until December 17, with performances running Wednesday through Saturdays at 8 pm, with Sunday matinees at 3 pm.  For ticket information, please visit Know Theatre’s website http://knowtheatre.com/season-20/neverwhere

Covedale’s “Annie” is a Great Present for Christmas

Review by Doug Iden of Annie: Covedale Theatre

The perennial holiday favorite Annie opened triumphantly at the Covedale Theatre as part of the Cincinnati Landmark Productions Marquee Season.  This unabashedly optimistic and up-lifting musical (some might say corny) tells the story of an eleven year old girl stuck in a prison-like orphanage while desperately trying to find her parents during the 1933 Depression.  Based upon the newspaper cartoon Little Orphan Annie, we see a plucky girl aided by her fellow orphans trying to cope with the difficult and dreary life of the orphanage, run by the drunken and tyrannical Miss Hannigan, played deliciously by Helen Raymond-Goers.

The show opens with Annie (Jordan Darnell) in the dilapidated orphanage singing the plaintive soliloquy “Maybe” in which she dreams of a better life.  Immediately, we are introduced to Miss Hannigan and the brood of fellow orphans (Savannah Boyd, Nora Darnell, Megan Hirka, Maya Hunt, Esther Medlin, Sara Reynolds and Aine Steele) who sing about their abusive life in “It’s the Hard Knock Life”.  All of the orphans are young, exuberant, charismatic and talented.

Annie escapes the orphanage and is quickly absorbed into the homeless and unemployed citizenry of the early Depression era.  Her optimism shines through in the hit song “Tomorrow” which Darnell sings with poise and strength.  Not many musicals rely on the star power of a youngster but the spunky Annie is key to the show and Darnell acts and sings the role well.

We see the real character of Miss Hannigan as she drunkenly complains about her life while disparaging her charges in the hilarious song “Little Girls”.  This role is one of the great comic villainesses and Raymond-Goers plays her in a wonderfully outrageous manner.

Their salvation comes at the hands of Grace (Sarah Viola), the personal assistant to billionaire Daddy Warbucks (Justin Glaser) who is looking for an orphan whom Warbucks hosts for Christmas.  Grace’s selection of a girl, Annie, is a shock to Warbucks but he quickly warms to Annie’s gritty personality.  They celebrate with the big production number “N.Y.C.”, as Annie, Grace and Warbucks cavort through the streets of the “Big Apple”.

In a radio program, Warbucks appeals to the public to find Annie’s parents and offers a substantial reward.  Predictably, many wannabes claim the reward but are unsuccessful.

In one of the more delightful moments in the show, Miss Hannigan, her brother Rooster (Spenser Smith) and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Leslie Kelly) plot to con Warbucks by pretending to be Annie’s long-lost parents.  In their ecstasy, they dream of wealth while singing the raucous “Easy Street”.

Justin Glaser is believable as industry titan Warbucks with a good baritone voice as he explains his growing attraction to Annie, the child he never had, through the mournful “Something was Missing”.

Annie is often dismissed as a sentimental “kid’s show” but there are significant adult themes here including yearning for family, friendship, loyalty, perseverance and an unwillingness to accept life’s curves.  It also serves as both political and social commentary on the devastation that the Depression brought to many people.  There are a significant number of topical 1930’s references to performers, politicians, Supreme Court Judges and an extended role for President Franklin Roosevelt, played by Dave Wilson.  The score is by Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) who are renowned for writing tuneful, bright and theatrically integrated songs with witty lyrics.

The singing of the ensemble is good and the dancing simple but effective while playing a variety of roles including, homeless people, regular New Yorkers, Warbuck’s servants, Cabinet members etc.  Music Director Steve Goers led his band of seven well at just the right volume level.

Brett Bowling continues to intrigue with effective and efficient set designs, using swinging doors and rollaway props to create different scenes.  The overall effect is a colorful, Christmas-themed set with a hint of surrealism.  Doors in the set open to display other scenes including a radio studio, Warbuck’s luxurious apartment, the streets of New York and FDR’s office.  The orphanage is depicted by rollaway bunk beds and a shabby office for Miss Hannigan.  The orphanage is dilapidated with plaster crumbling showing bricks underneath.  The effects are accentuated by Caren Brady’s costumes which range from rags for the orphans, to immaculate servant’s uniforms, to homeless vagrants, to passers-by on the street, to a zoot suit for Rooster to red and green dresses for the orphans in the finale.  Props also play a big part with the radio studio, musical instruments, carriages and a Christmas tree with lots of greenery.  The lighting was mostly effective but some of the spotlights seemed out of sync with the actor’s locations.

Overall, this is a fun-filled, jubilant, colorful show with good singing and a lot of spirit – a good holiday show.  So, since “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, don’t wait until “Tomorrow” to stroll down “Easy Street” (or the Covedale Theater) to watch Annie running through December 23.  Their next production will be Guys and Dolls.