Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of every tongue confess
The sun has come out. The first-class production of Annie playing through the holidays at the Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington truly earns its laughter and emotion, thanks to sure-handed direction by Mark Waldrop and a talented cast.
Since just about everyone knows the 1977 musical by Charles Strouse (music), Martin Charnin (lyrics), and Thomas Meehan (book) about the adorable redheaded orphan (Caitlin Deerin) and gruff billionaire Oliver Warbucks (George Dvorsky)and, yes, that one song in particularwhat's so special about this production? For one thing, Waldrop has achieved a high level of commitment from every member of his large cast, many of whom have to switch from one role to another in what seems like seconds. Another element is that Olney is using the original Broadway sets by Ming Cho Lee, ranging from the skewed gray walls of Annie's orphanage to the trompe l'oeil splendor of Warbucks' mansion, and Theoni Aldredge's vivid original costumes.
What people too often forget about Annie is that its optimism isn't blind. It's the story of a little orphan girl fighting hard to maintain her positive attitude in genuinely grim circumstances: it's the winter of 1933, the Depression has hit New York City hard, and Annie is determined to find the parents who left her at the dank orphanage. Her search takes her into the unforgiving streets and through a shanty town of the homeless unemployed before she lands fortuitously in the home of the wealthiest (but lonely) man in the world.
Deerin is clear-eyed and straightforward, with a brassy singing voice that evokes the original Annie, Andrea McArdle. She's completely focused, never falling into cutesy mannerisms, and she commands attention whenever she's onstage. The other orphans complement her well, especially adorable little Molly (Sadie Rose Herman, alternating 0with Heidi Kaplan), who does get the opportunity to steal hearts.
Waldrop has assembled a powerful core group of performers in the key roles. Dvorsky brings a mellifluous baritone voice and a solid physical presence to Warbucks, the man who never knew what was missing in his life until he met Annie. Channez McQuay is a riotous Miss Hannigan, both vicious and amusingly predatoryeven kittenisharound any potentially eligible man, and Carrie A. Johnson is all class as Warbucks' secretary, Grace Farrell. Bobby Smith is sleek and menacing as Rooster Hannigan; Jenna Sokolowski makes the most of her every appearance as deliciously tacky Lily St. Regis; and Rob McQuay is easygoing and confident as FDR. And, of course, there's Sandy: Abby, who alternates with Tanner, is an audience favorite.
So, yes, this Annie is not innovative, but audiences probably won't see a better production of the show.
Olney Theatre Center