Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The beloved musical Annie is an ideal choice for La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, as their summer production. Families are able to enjoy a first-rate dinner and show without having to worry about getting the kids to bed early enough for school the next morning. With a talented cast and fine direction, this mounting is certain to entertain La Comedia audiences.
Taken from the comic strip of "Little Orphan Annie," this Tony Award winning musical tells the story of the spunky orphan Annie, who longs to be reunited with her parents. Picked to spend the Christmas season with Billionaire Oliver Warbucks, Annie spreads her message of hope to everyone she meets (including President Roosevelt). Despite the deceitful plans of Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage, Annie finally finds happiness and a home.
Annie is blessed with a quick-paced and wonderfully efficient book by Thomas Meehan. Though often overly sweet and cutesy, the plot has sufficient character development, humor, heart, and conflict. The script also provides an informative historical and social perspective on the times (1933). The show's score is one of the best of the 1970s and features such well-known tunes as "It's The Hard Knock Life", "Easy Street", and, of course, "Tomorrow". The songs by Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) are highly melodic, witty, and memorable.
La Comedia has gathered a large and gifted cast for this production. Two young actresses, Christen Placa and Leah Thompson, alternate in the title role, with Ms. Placa on for the performance reviewed. The twelve-year-old possesses a pleasantly natural singing voice and an abundance of charm. While Ms. Placa more convincingly portrays the sweeter Annie than the tough skinned orphan introduced at the beginning of the show, she demonstrates solid timing in the delivery of all of her lines. The musical's best performance is that of Robert Bales as Daddy Warbucks. The confident and smooth singing and precise portrayal by this La Comedia veteran are huge assets to the show. Tauren Hagans provides a likewise strong performance as Miss Hannigan, supplying confident vocals and a suitably campy comic flair. Amy Jane Finnerty (Grace), Charles Goetz (FDR), John Boy (Rooster), and Megan Muller (Lily) display fine vocals and acting in supporting roles. Two groups, each consisting of six young actresses, also alternate as Annie's orphan friends and offer endearing performances much to the benefit of the show.
The choices by Director/Choreographer David Swan enhance both the humorous and sentimental moments of the show. His attention to detail and sound understanding of the piece give added depth to the production. His dances are active and interesting, with some especially nice touches for "Hooverville." The show is given a fairly elaborate design by Matthew J. Evans, with larger sets for the orphanage and the Warbucks mansion, and a number of attractive backdrops for other scenes. On overlooked item, however, is the appearance of a deserted Times Square (no cars or activity shown on the backdrop) for "N.Y.C."
The capable lighting for Annie by Timothy A. Guth is one of the best from the dinner theater in some time. Jane Sizemore and Jody Williams supply period appropriate and appealing costumes, as usual. As is often the case at this venue, the scene changes are too slow and the badly synthesized (and pre-recorded) musical accompaniment is unfortunate, but these are likely unavoidable by-products of the space.
La Comedia's Annie is one of their more satisfying and pleasingly entertaining productions, aided by high-quality material, skillful performers, and professional leadership and design. Annie runs through September 1, 2002, and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.