Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Little Orphan Danny
Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Review by Nancy Grossman

Also see Sarah's review of Every Brilliant Thing

Dan Finnerty, Julie Foldesi and Band
Photo by Meghan Moore
Merrimack Repertory Theatre premieres Little Orphan Danny, a homegrown production developed by Emerson College graduate Dan Finnerty with Sean Daniels, MRT Artistic Director. As the frontman and creator of the comedy rock group The Dan Band, it is the most natural thing that Finnerty chooses a musical showcase for his very personal story of growing up in an adoptive family and his journey to find the woman who gave birth to him. Fortunately for us, the story doesn't end with that, but goes on to document the ways in which the discovery impacts all of the parties involved. Finnerty provides an unvarnished and humorous peek into the family closet, while exhibiting warmth and respect for the feelings of those he loves.

Little Orphan Danny has several things to recommend it, chief among them being the engaging personality of its star and the freshness of the material. Finnerty is both relaxed and energetic, totally at ease playing himself, and he capably connects with the audience as he breaks the fourth wall to tell his story. He is backed by a tight onstage band, led by music director/keyboards Dan Lipton, with drummer Jeffrey Prescott, guitarist Andrés Wilson, and Julie Foldesi, who plays guitar and harmonica, sings, and takes on the roles of the three key women (adoptive mother, birth mother, and girlfriend/wife) in Finnerty's life. Foldesi is a polished performer who shines as the secondary characters, imbuing each of them with an amazing and distinctive spirit, and she is a terrific vocalist, as well. Whenever she steps out from the band and puts on her acting hat, her moments in the spotlight raise the bar.

Lipton, who contributed additional music, is an accomplished music director/conductor/orchestrator/arranger/composer, and lends a steady presence, keeping all of the songs on track. To Finnerty's credit, the musical numbers provide expository information and move the story forward, and most of them offer good listening, with a couple of exceptions (a Hamilton-inspired rap-style song early in the show is ill-advised). Daniels' kinetic staging uses the space well, and his blocking when Finnerty and his birth mother "meet" over the phone is quite effective. In addition, having been involved in the development of the show from the start, Daniels is able to seamlessly meld the narrative with the rock band concert sensibility to make it feel theatrical.

The key scenic design (Michael B. Raiford) features are a staircase where Finnerty hangs out, and an overhead screen for projections designed by Seághan Mackay. Brian J. Lilienthal (lighting design) divides the stage for scenes in different locations, suggests the light emanating from a television, and focuses attention with a spotlight for greater impact in some of the songs. Costume designer Jen Caprio gives Foldesi small accessories to change character, and dresses Finnerty simply in jeans, a Little Orphan Annie t-shirt, an over-shirt with his name stitched on it, and hi-top sneakers. The actors are mic'd and sound designer Daniel Erdberg maintains good levels to balance the voices and the musicians without blasting the audience back in their seats.

Little Orphan Danny is a nice respite from the daily news and some of the darker theater offerings about town. While the story is not without its heavy emotional moments, Finnerty doesn't dwell on them. He relates what happened and moves on, acknowledging that perhaps the journey and its outcome were not as easy as it may seem. However, he chooses to accentuate the positive, focus on the loving connections he has with two terrific women, and keeps his eyes on that prize. Danny is a lucky boy and he knows it.

Little Orphan Danny, through April 15, 2018, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 East Merrimack Street, Lowell MA. For tickets and information, call 978-654-4678 or visit

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Dan Finnerty, Created by Dan Finnerty and Sean Daniels, Additional Music by Dan Lipton; Scenic Designer, Michael B. Raiford; Costume Designer, Jen Caprio; Lighting Designer, Brian J. Lilienthal; Sound Designer, Daniel Erdberg; Projection Designer, Seághan Mackay; Production Stage Manager, Nicole Kutcher; Music Director, Orchestrations, and Arrangements by Dan Lipton; Directed by Sean Daniels

Cast: Dan Finnerty, Julie Foldesi; Band: Dan Lipton, Jeffrey Prescott, Andrés Wilson