Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
After I saw this tour during its recent stop in Cleveland, I wrestled with what was wrong with the production. The performance was slow and had an uncomfortable anxiety about it. Now, I've made the discovery of the problem. None of the photos in the publicity package included Heidi Gray, who played Annie. Gray has only recently taken over the leading role.
The cast (and surely the crew) were anxious about a new leading lady. On opening night, the other actors seemed constantly to watch Gray. Often a hand would be placed on her shoulder to guide her in a direction on the stage. The older (Gray is only 11 years old) and more experienced cast members wanted everything to go wellthe songs, the dances and would the dog remember the new Annie?
Everything went well. But everything lacked that spontaneity and energy of an opening night. No one is to blame. The anxiety was normal and I assume everyone will settle in place in no time, and peace will surround the cast.
The highlights of Annie are the scenes with the villainsMiss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews), Rooster Hannigan (Garrett Deagon), and Lily (Lucy Werner). Andrews has more stage time and has a strong, belt 'em voice and plenty of dancing skills. Deagon has a big voice and limber dancing ability as Hannigan's brother Rooster. Werner is petite and perfect for the jazzy songs for Lily. She dances well enough to signal her parents didn't waste money on those dancing lessons. When the three are on stage together, it's glorious fun.
The children in the orphanage with Annie vary in performance skills. I wonder if a few most sessions with the director could solve some of the unevenness in their performances.
Chloe Tiso is a perfect Grace Farrell, beautiful and elegant. She could leave the Warbucks' mansion and become a power model. Oliver Warbucks is bigwhen he walks on the stage he blocks furniture and other actors. Yet, Gilgamesh Taggett makes Warbucks a kind, reasonable man. Both Tiso and Taggett sing and dance well.
Suzy Benzinger (costume designer) has dressed the orphans in appropriate, poor-child costumes. However, at the curtain call, they had clean, bright costumes that underscored the change that would take place with a happier financial market.
Beowulf Boritt (scenic designer) created large sets that move on and off the stage with ease. I was especially pleased with the large black-and-white photographs of New York City, which are the backdrops for the Hooverville scenes.
Annie offers no surprises or plot twists now. But we should enjoy the delicate, subtle changes in sets and costumes and enjoy comparing one production of Annie with others we have seen.
As always, the audience was filled with little girls who know Annie and the other orphan girls. Maybe they want to grow up to play Annie in a community theater.
This production of Annie was satisfyingnot great, but comfortable.
Annie played at the Connor Palace in Cleveland's Playhouse Square, January 12 - 17, 2016. For more information on the tour, visit anniethemusical.com.
Book: Thomas Meehan
Based on: "Little Orphan Annie"