Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

National Tour
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Picnic and Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan

Heidi Gray, Gilgamesh Taggett, and Chloe Tiso
Photo by Joan Marcus
From countless local theater productions to school versions you were most likely dragged to and the film starring Carol Burnett, the 1977 musical Annie is one that most people have seen numerous times. It is also a show that seems to be equally beloved but also just as equally hated by others, most likely due to the saccharine sweetness of the familiar song "Tomorrow" and the number of overly cute, and sometimes cloying, young girls who usually get cast as the orphans. Fortunately, the current national tour of this hit musical, which comes to ASU Gammage for a week long run and is directed by the show's original director and lyricist Martin Charnin, is fresh and fun and features talented leads, a superb cast of young actresses, and colorful creative designs. While there is plenty of sweetness in this production there isn't a hint of artificial sweetener.

Set in 1933 during the Great Depression, the plot of the comic-strip-inspired musical follows the spunky, red-headed orphan Annie. She befriends a scruffy dog and loves her fellow orphan girls but never loses hope that her parents will one day finally turn up to take her away from the dreary orphanage overseen by the horrible Miss Hannigan. Meanwhile, billionaire Oliver Warbucks is looking for an orphan to spend Christmas at his mansion. Fate intervenes and Annie finds herself tugging at the heartstrings of Warbucks, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and most likely every audience member as well.

The infectious score, with Charles Strouse's upbeat music and Charnin's fun lyrics, features the break-out tunes "Tomorrow," "It's the Hard-Knock Life," "Easy Street," and "Little Girls." The book by Thomas Meehan is nicely constructed with enough character growth, especially on the part of Warbucks, to instill the show with a sense of love and warmth.

The national touring cast may be playing parts inspired by two-dimensional cartoon characters, but for the most part they are all delivering well-rounded portrayals full of comedy and emotion. Heidi Gray is confident, upbeat, and always optimistic as Annie, with a clear, strong, and winning singing voice that excels on her many songs. As Warbucks, Gilgamesh Taggett is a giant teddy bear with a sweet, soulful singing voice. Taggett instills Warbucks with a perfectly rigid, capitalistic heart that Annie begins to soften as soon as the two meet. Lynn Andrews is comically delicious as the conniving Miss Hannigan with pipes that deliver a bright, booming belt and agile legs that kick up a storm during "Easy Street." Chloe Tiso is sweet and touching as Warbucks' secretary Grace, with Garrett Deagon, Lucy Werner, and Jeffrey B. Duncan rounding out the main cast in fine performances. The ensemble is solid and the six young girls who play the orphans delivery realistic portrayals that are winning.

Having directed this show numerous times before, including the original Broadway run, Martin Charnin clearly knows what is required to infuse the proceedings with emotionally packed moments and to play up the comical scenes equally. My only quibble, and I'm not sure if this is because this tour has been on the road for a while now and the cast may be somewhat tired of their parts, is that there are a few moments where the actors appear to be slightly unattached and simply waiting to deliver their next lines. They appear to have been overly drilled into delivering their lines a specific way, or just being somewhat bored with the show. Fortunately, these moments don't detract from the overall enjoyment of this production.

Choreographer Liza Gennaro (daughter of the original Broadway choreographer Peter Gennaro) provides plenty of upbeat numbers but also fun moments for the orphans. While most of the dances are fairly simple moves they play up the playful nature of the characters. Beowulf Boritt's scenic designs include a fairly large set for the orphanage that breaks into pieces and revolves into both a shanty town as well as the Warbucks estate and some beautifully detailed New York City backdrops that add depth to the scenes. Ken Billington's lighting creates lovely images, while the soiled orphan costume designs from Suzy Benzinger are nice counterpoints to the spotless and colorful clothing in the Warbucks mansion. Peter Hylenski's sound design is crisp and clear and Kelly Ann Lambert's music direction achieves warm tones from the cast and a full sound from the small orchestra. While Annie's dog Sandy is only in a few short scenes, animal trainer William Berloni clearly is gifted in finding a dog (in this case, two that alternate performances) that not only look incredibly loving but hit their marks with ease.

Annie is a joyful musical of hope and heart and I'm happy to say that the national tour production foregoes any hint of cutesiness or overly sugary moments. Instilled with a realness and with talented leads and seven gifted young actresses who deliver rough, gruff, and natural portrayals of the orphans, the end result is refreshing. This production will surely delight audiences of all ages and maybe even soften the hearts of those who have come to hate the musical just like Annie softens Daddy Warbucks.

Annie plays through May 8th, 2016, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit

Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Based on based on Harold Gray's comic strip "Little Orphan Annie"
Directed by Martin Charnin
Choreography by Liza Gennaro
Scenic Designer: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Designer: Suzy Benzinger
Hair, Wigs and Make-up designers: Campbell Young Associates
Lighting designer: Ken Billington
Sound designer: Peter Hylenski
Animal Trainer: William Berloni
Music Director: Kelly Ann Lambert
Musical supervision/Additional Orchestrations: Keith Levenson

Heidi Gray: Annie
Gilgamesh Taggett: Oliver Warbucks
Lynn Andrews: Miss Hannigan
Chloe Tiso as Grace
Garrett Deagon: Rooster
Lucy Werner: Lily
Jeffrey B. Duncan: FDR
Todd Fenstermaker: Drake/Ensemble
Ruby Day: Star to Be/Ensemble
Theresa Rowley: Mrs. Pugh/Ensemble
Connor Simpson: Bundles/Ensemble
Daniel Forest Sullivan: Lt. Ward/Ensemble
Sunny/Macy: Sandy
Orphans: Sage Bentley, Bridget Carly Marsh, Molly Rose Meredith, Emily Moreland, Annabelle Wachtel, Casey Watkins
Ensemble: Chelsey Lynn Alfredo, Timothy Allen, Jonathan Cobrda, Madisen Johnson, Brianne Kennedy, Tyler Lenhart, Kelsey Shaw