Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

AnnieManatee Players
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of The 1940's Radio Hour and A Motown Christmas

Ric Stroup, Julianne Teague, Lauren Nielsen and Cast
Photo by Brian Craft
Annie, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan, is perfect holiday fare, appealing to the youngsters and even centered around Christmastime. Heck, its last song is "A New Deal for Christmas." Thus, it is showing up at Manatee Performing Arts Center this month in a production directed by Cheryl Carty and choreographed by Cynthia Ashford.

It has been a long time since I saw this musical, one that I like more than many of my theater friends, who are mostly allergic to it. It has a terrific score with half a dozen potential showstoppers ("Tomorrow," "Little Girls," "NYC,"You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," and "I Don't Need Anything But You") and several other songs that are darned good. The story is well structured and Thomas Meehan's book finely crafted. For me, the key to a really successful production is not to play it broad, allow the real emotionalism written into the musical to come out. This helps to make sure the saccharine factor is not overwhelming as we cruise toward the happy ever after ending, so audiences can be really moved.

Unfortunately, this production falls into all the usual traps, and for more experienced theatergoers falls short, although it would be hard to judge that based on the enthusiastic reactions of all the youngsters and most of their parents in attendance at the matinee I attended. That performance was plagued by some dicey singing, spread across most of the cast, perhaps from fatigue brought on by the additional demands of the holiday season.

All of the children (and Sandy) are double cast. I saw the red cast, headed by Julianne Teague as Annie. She is adorable, sings decently, and all in all acquits herself nicely. The orphans, Catherine Howard, Aubree Gunn, Cassidy "Sage" Miller, Ciana Bostock, Alitash Tafesse, Riley Bloom, Elizabeth Austin and Abbie Mount, sing and dance well, but maybe not quite ready for Broadway. Ric Stroup is stalwart as Daddy Oliver Warbucks, but was plagued with vocal insecurity at the performance I attended. I am willing to believe that it was an off show for him. Andrea Keddell plays Miss Hannigan very much for laughs, perpetually in a drunken state. Kody Ramirez gives one of the best performances on stage as Rooster with effective dancing. Eliza Lipton as Lily St. Regis completes our villainous trio. Ms. Lipton continues to grow as a performer and here she shows herself to be a marvelous comedienne and dancer. Lauren Nielsen had the strongest vocal outing as Grace Farrell and is really cute in the part. Other good performances in supporting parts include Bradley Keville as Bert Healey, Mark Eichorn as Drake, and Joe Eckstein as FDR. The rest of the large cast do double and triple duty as Warbucks' staff, residents of Hooverville, denizens of New York, FDR's cabinet, etc.

It is hard to assess what went wrong; did the cast lack focus due to other holiday distractions or is director Cheryl Carty at fault? Cynthia Ashford's choreography is lively and reasonably well executed, and the energy level on stage is high. Music direction is by Michelle Neal and her uncredited brass players do well by the opening of the overture, which always gives me goosebumps. Scenic design is by Caleb Carrier and Daddy Warbucks' home is wow! Costume design by Georgina Willmott is also very strong, and Patrick Bedell's lighting design is effective.

In spite of my reservations, based on audience reaction at the performance I attended, Annie seems to be delighting audiences, young and old alike at Manatee Performing Arts Center this Christmas season.

Manatee Players' Annie, through December 17, 2017, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, call 941-748-0111 or visit

Annie: Julianne Teague
Molly: Catherine Howard
Kate: Aubree Gunn
Tessie: Cassidy "Sage" Miller
July: Ciana Bostock
Pepper: Alitash Tafesse
Duffy: Riley Bloom
Daisy: Elizabeth Austin
Rose: Abbie Mount
Miss Hannigan: Andrea Keddell
Oliver Warbucks: Ric Stroup
Grace Farrell: Lauren Nielsen
Rooster: Kody Ramirez
Lily St. Regis: Eliza Lipton
Star: to: Be: Michelle Northcraft
Mr. Bundles: Joe Eckstein
Lt. Ward: Bradley Keville
Cop: Tony Busceglio
Drake: Mark Eichorn
Mrs. Pugh: Jessica Babcock
Mrs. Greer: Julie Kulin
Cecile: Chrystal Juaire
Annette: Michelle Northcraft
Maids/Butlers: Sharon Bartley, Nancy Brining, Maddie Cashen, Joe Eckstein, Bradley Keville, William Williams
Bert Healey: Bradley Keville
Ronnie Boylan: Julie Kulin
Connie Boylan: Michelle Northcraft
Bonnie Boylan: Chrystal Juaire
Fred McCracken: Tony Busceglio
Masked Announcer: Joe Eckstein
FDR: Joe Eckstein
Francis Perkins: Michelle Northcraft
Harold Ickes: Bradley Keville
Morganthau: Mark Eichorn
Hull: Tony Busceglio
Marine Guard: William Williams
Adult Ensemble: Jessica Babcock, Sharon Bartley, nancy Brining, tony Busceglio, Maddie Cashen, Joe Eckstein, Mark Eichorn, Chrystal Juaire, Bradley Keville, Julie Kulin, Eliza Lipton, Michelle Northcraft, Kody Ramirez, William Williams
Sandy: Max Yauslin-Craft

Alternate Cast Not Seen:
Annie: Alanna Rife
Molly: Sienna McHugh
Kate: Autumn Ruscoe
Tessie: Olivia Mueller
July: Roxy Gevis
Pepper: Vivianna Coppa
Duffy: Anika Pisz
Daisy: Angelina Puccia
Rose: Isabella DeStories
Sandy: Eli Stiffler