“Annie” Shines Once More from Class Act

This column will mark my twentieth review of a Class Act Production, and I confess to feeling a sense of pride that through the ten years of its existence, I have had the opportunity, through my People’s Critic columns, to play a small part in promoting producer, Keith Brumfield’s exceptional organization, and its outstanding musical theatre program for aspiring young thespians. That pride was magnified when I attended last Sunday afternoon’s final performance of Class Act‘s “Annie,” and learned that the enormous Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts was “sold out!” That was as it should be, and Class Act and its army of volunteers have worked hard to earn this deserved popularity.

With its breezy book by Thomas Meehan, the catchy music of Charles Strouse, and the charming and witty lyrics of Martin Charnin, “Annie” has become a perennial favorite. This production, ably directed by Tina Kraft, marks the third time Class Act has produced the musical. It always seems to seduce the audience with its bright optimism and melodic score, and this occasion was no exception. The cheerful mood was set as Musical Director, Rae Moses, conducted the fine orchestra in a foot-tappin’ Overture that featured an impressive “Tomorrow” segment from trumpeter, Tony Yarbrough. When the curtain rises on the New York City Municipal Orphanage, Morgan Starr (as Orphan Annie) delivers the whimsical opening number, “Maybe,” with a tenderness and vocal purity that makes it clear she is a star in more ways than one. (She would prove it again when she delivered a soaring and wonderful, “Tomorrow.”) Next, we meet mean Miss Hannigan (Meredith Tyler), the alcoholic manager of the orphanage. Miss Tyler has great fun with this role and clearly revels in slinking about the stage and “hamming” up the comedy. Her energetic performance could even be enhanced by toning things down a bit and working toward more subtle humor that is a bit less broad and heavy-handed. But she brings a strong voice to numbers like “Little Girls,” and when she slyly lifts her skirt a bit, we may have the best bit of comic cheesecake since Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night.” The abused orphans, meanwhile, light up the stage with their knockout number, “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” Ironically, while I have sometimes complained in the past about microphones that did not provide loud enough sound, this production had such powerful volume that there were times when it seemed too loud. In crowded scenes, it also made it difficult to discern the direction from which voices on the stage were coming. But one of my guests, who has a hearing handicap, was delighted he could hear everything quite well. Hats off to Sound Designer, Andy Davis.

With a nod to the Depression era homeless, the wonderful “Hooverville” number began with a great “fog horn” from the trombone of Michael Keig, and moved on to a glorious ensemble number led by Alyssa Porter (Sophie), and featuring terrific choral singing from what appeared to be a cast of thousands across the stage. Then it was on to the more affluent surroundings in the lovely mansion of billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Trey Wetserburg), as Warbucks moves toward plans to adopt Annie. Warbucks’ assistant, Grace, was sweetly played by Lauren Lawson. Grace and the domestic staff raise the entertainment bar with wonderful singing and dancing (choreographer, Fayla Curry, with dance arrangements from Megan Kane) in such songs as “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” and “You Won’t Be An Orphan for Long.” Mr. Westerburg would prove to be an anchor of excellence in this production with a convincingly commanding presence on the stage and a powerful and pleasing voice in numbers like “N.Y.C.,” and the touching, “Something Was Missing.” He connects warmly with his young co-star, and I think he could have passed for Warbucks on a Broadway stage.

Spencer Crosswy and Maddie Landers portray Rooster and Lily, a conniving pair of conspirators who pretend to be Annie’s real parents. They duet nicely, joining Hannigan for the sassy and seductive, “Easy Street,” and Miss Lawson does a fine job of leading “You Won’t Be An Orphan for Long,” as Annie, Warbucks and the servants join her for the close of Act I.

Act II opens with old-time radio, as Bert Healy (Tyler Lewis) hosts the Oxydent Hour of Smiles broadcast. Mr. Lewis’ fine voice is complemented by the sweet harmonies of the Boylan Sisters (Kelley Peters, Alex Cochran, Caroline Obkirchner) as they sing “You’re Never Fully Dressed” [Without a Smile]. That song is then beautifully reprised by the cast of orphans, who even supply some pleasant tap dancing in the bargain. Then we find ourselves at the White House where President Roosevelt (FDR, played amusingly by Sean Rooney) is meeting with his cabinet. Annie and Warbucks help them chase away the Depression doldrums by having all join in a cheerful reprise of “Tomorrow,” that might be good medicine for our current group of Washington politicians. Back at the mansion, Annie, Warbucks, Grace, and the servants treat us to an eye-popping dazzler with the delightful, “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” that could only be topped by the shimmering finale of “New Deal for Christmas.” On the lush set design of Jonathan Shelledy, and with the full cast in bright costume designs from Caroline Zirilli, the show-stopping finish glowed under the fine lighting designs of Blake Minor. And there, calmly in the middle of this closing tableau, sat Sandy Sattler, the real-life dog, who had even starred in the 1998 edition of “Annie,” when I was first beginning to write about what a Crown Jewel we have in Class Act Productions.

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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