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SAN DIEGO
Regional Reviews by Bill Eadie

Annie
National Tour

Also see Bill's review of As Much As You Can

Annie
"You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile"
Annie is one of those shows that won't die, like Cats. Perennially (and perhaps "Now and Forever") on tour, Annie functions as a tuneful, accessible introduction to professional theatre, particularly for young girls. With the emphasis on "professional," however, one would hope that these new theatregoers would find their first experience to be fun and to provide them with strong expectations for enjoyment when they next attend. With the idea of holding this two-year-old tour of Annie to a high standard, then, I attended the opening night performance of a five-performance run that Broadway San Diego presented at the Civic Theatre last weekend. Let's go down my checklist and see how the show is holding up.

Sets - Ming Cho Lee supposedly created a fresh look for this production, but the sets still consist of quite a few artfully done drops in front of which scenes are played while other scenes are being set up by stagehands behind. The drops look old-fashioned, and I wonder what young theatergoers will think when they see a show where sets roll on and off stage under their own power.

Costumes - Theoni V. Aldrich's designs still look terrific, especially her designs for the Warbucks household staff. Some of the children's costumes, however, appeared to be ill-fitting.

Lighting Design - Credited to Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz, the lighting was at its best when creating a starry sky visible from the Warbucks mansion.

Sound Design - There's nothing wrong with Peter Hylenski's sound design that a correct balance of levels won't fix, and while it took a bit to get those levels right they ran fairly smoothly once the balances had been achieved.

Musical Direction - Adam Jones' band was a bit ragged and out of sorts at the beginning, but it settled down into an easy groove, albeit with some odd tempi.

Choreography - Liza Gennaro, recreating her father's original work, keeps the movements simple and coordinated. The cast responded with tight, carefully-rehearsed patterns that in no way even start to look as though they are spontaneous. The exception was Zander Meisner as Rooster, who appeared as though he was trying, unsuccessfully, to break out of the movement pattern and dance a solo.

Stage Direction - Martin Charnin, who also served as lyricist, directed the original Broadway production, and he's still at it. Several clever touches enhance a style that moves things along but doesn't hurry them.

Performances - Understudy Madison Kerth was on as Annie on opening night. Ms. Kerth hit all the right notes and made all the right moves, but her voice was all belt and no modulation and she seemed to have left her charm and charisma at home. David Barton made a stolid but reliable Daddy Warbucks, Jeffrey B. Duncan impersonated F.D.R. adequately, Analisa Leaming displayed a lovely soprano as Grace Farrell, and the adult ensemble deserves kudos for its enthusiasm and poise in a variety of smaller roles. I wish I could say the same for Lynn Andrews, who, as Miss Hannigan, mugged shamelessly and threw off the timing for the corps of orphans (the audience, however, rewarded her excesses with its loudest ovation). As Sandy, Mikey performed admirably and proceeded to steal the show, though he seemed to need a little extra incentive to come when Ms. Kerth called him.

Overall - There is much that is solid about this production, a bit to admire, and a bit more to despair over. Still, the many children in the audience seemed taken with the performance, and I'm guessing that they'll be back in a theatre audience again, given half a chance. So, I'm awarding the tour of Annie a solid "B" with hopes that it continues to provide a worthy gateway to professional theatre for first-time audiences as it wends its way across the U.S. and back.

Annie, book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin. Presented by Broadway San Diego at the Civic Theatre, January 9-11, 2009. Directed by Martin Charnin, with Original Choreography by Peter Gennaro, Choreography by Liza Gennaro, Set Design by Ming Cho Lee, Original Costume Design by Theoni V. Aldredge, Additional Costumes Designed by Jimm Halliday, Lighting Design by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz, Sound Design by Peter Hylenski, and Musical Director/Conductor Adam Jones. With Lynn Andrews, David Barton, Madison Kerth, Analisa Leaming, Zander Meisner, Cheryl Hoffman, Jeffrey B. Duncan, Mackensie Aladjem, Sari Feldman, Ivy Moody, Siara Padilla, Sydney Richardson, Dominique Sofia Ross, Liz Bachman, Rachel Broadwell, Kenneth D'Elia, Kelly Goyette, Kevin Gutches, Dustin J. Harder, Lance MacDonald, Monica Moran, Patrick Peavy, Ricky Pope, and Jillian Wallach.

Photo: Phil Martin

See the current theatre season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie



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