Review by Jack Crumley of Annie: Covedale Theatre
It’s Christmas, and Covedale is getting in the spirit with the Tony award-winning Annie: the story of an orphan girl whose boundless optimism helps her find happiness. Based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strips, Annie opened on Broadway in 1977 and won the Tony for Best Musical. It’s a staple of modern American musical theatre, despite being so strongly rooted in the 1930s (and The Depression). It’s a show not generally associated with Christmas, but Director and Covedale Executive Artistic Director Tim Perrino points out that the show is specifically set during Christmastime to emphasize feelings of hope, family, and goodwill.
Annie is a show that has an 11-year-old girl as the main character, which can be a challenge for casting and production, but Jordan Darnell carries a clear voice and a big smile from the opening number to the final bow. She delivers every line with the earnestness and moxie that Annie is known for. She sings with kids, dances with adults, and even does her share of dog-wrangling on stage (the canine role of Sandy is played by Fergus Steele who is a well-trained dog, but not a stage animal by any means and needed some extra guidance from his actual master in the cast). The show is rather presentational and Darnell has quite a bit of dialogue said straight to the audience, but she never comes off as “too cute-sy.”
Even though Annie gets swept away from her “Hard Knock Life” at the orphanage, the girls she lived with are not forgotten. The girls who play them should not be forgotten in this review. Savannah Boyd, Nora Darnell, Megan Hirka, Maya Hunt, Esther Medlin, Sara Reynolds, and Aine Steele all shine on stage. Their reprise of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” in Act II is a particular highlight.
Trying to keep all these children down is the woman who runs the orphanage, Miss Hannigan, played by Helen Raymond Goers, who delivered a delightfully devilish performance. She really sells it in the Act I song where she bemoans the existence of “Little Girls.” And from the audience, it was just as much fun to watch her react to events on stage even when she wasn’t the focus, and that included the curtain call. Hannigan agrees to help her sleazebag brother, Rooster (played by Spenser Smith), and his new girl, Lily St Regis (played by Leslie Kelly), try to cash in on Annie’s situation. Smith and Kelly have good chemistry, and their ongoing song with Goers about wanting to live on “Easy Street” is played as a slow burn ragtime villain song.
Sarah Viola returns to the Covedale stage as Grace, personal assistant (though I believe she’s called a “secretary” in the show) to the billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, played by Justin Glaser. Once again, Viola’s voice is a joy to listen to. Glaser’s Warbucks is just as physically imposing as his checkbook is, but his rendition of “Something Was Missing” brought out a surprisingly tender singing voice.
Playing the butlers, maids, Hooverville-ites, and random New Yorkers is the ensemble cast, who should be praised for the number and speed of their costume changes from scene to scene along with all their songs and choreography. Several members of the ensemble are playing double (triple?) duty as well: Jaime Steele kicks off Act II as radio host Bert Healy, Dave Wilson spends the second half wheeling around as President Franklin Roosevelt, and Kyle Taylor hams it up as Harold Ickes and Judge Brandeis.
The colorful set Brett Bowling designed has several flats that fold in and out for different scenes, and then a pair of doors that open up into the Warbucks mansion. His outdoor setting for New York City has a nice moment with Denny Reed’s lighting design that mimics the bright lights of Times Square in the Act I “NYC” number.
A big musical with memorable songs like “Tomorrow” and “Maybe” needs a live band to give it a full sound, and that’s once again handled by Music Director Steve Goers. The band never overpowered the singers, and sound-wise, everyone was well-mic’d. The only issue an audience member might have is with Miss Hannigan’s whistle. It’s loud, but it’s supposed to be.
Caren Brady’s costume design had to account for 24 cast members, but with all the different roles the eleven members of the ensemble have to cover, she’s really got closer to five dozen different outfits. Also, many of those costumes have to be able to be put on and taken off quickly. Annie’s classic red dress is perfect, and saving it for the climax is a nice touch. Some other costume kudos go to Rooster’s plaid suit and Grace’s beautiful dress at the end.
Annie is a family-friendly show where goodness wins and bad guys get their comeuppance (and a buoyant little girl inspires the president to save a nation). It’s running Thursdays through Sundays until December 23. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa