In this dreary economy the bright mantra ‘the sun will come out, tomorrow’ is perhaps even more profound than it was back during the stock market crash, Hoover-Roosevelt depression era. And who better to remind us of the optimistic outlook than little orphan Annie as Laurel Mill Playhouse sets up Annie the musical for the Christmas season. A timeless classic about keeping hope and faith alive in times of depression and despair, the production proves that good things come to those who wait and that the good guys always triumph in the end.
Directed by Michael V. Hartsfield with Musical Direction by Alice Laurissa Harris, this production will warm the cockles of your heart for the holidays and keep you fully dressed with a smile on your face. With a strong female ensemble and a magnificent youth ensemble the sounds of hope and optimism come shining brightly all throughout the performance.
The two minor downfalls that set this production apart from perfection was the performance by the four men who did make the cut into the production and the directorial decision to change Bert Healy to “Beatrice Healy” and portray the character as a female. Lauren Giglio, while maintaining a bubbly personality fitting for radio, was unable to sing the signature song of the second act without completely fading out vocally and straining to hit the notes an octave above where they were written. Director Michael Hartsfield’s choice in casting a female in such a prominent role, rather than double casting one of the other men, is questionable at best as it produced disappointing results.
Oliver Warbucks (Patrick Pase) and President Roosevelt (Larry Simmons) were a mixed bag in regards to their performances. While both Pase and Simmons fit the characters well in their spoken roles, their songs lacked intonation and feeling. Pase even gives up singing during both “NYC” and “I Don’t’ Need Anything But You” and starts speaking the song lyrics, which would have been fine had he continued to project them at the volume he had been attempting to sing them so that they could be heard.
But where the men were lacking the women more than made up for it. Grace Farrell (Emma Jensen) has a powerful and operatic sounding voice that sweetly melts the hearts of all those listening, especially when introducing the staff during “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here.” Her gentle mannerisms are the perfect assuaging balm to foil against Hannigan’s bitter exterior. Jensen has a carefully crafted simplicity to her character that makes her coy flirtations with Oliver Warbucks subtle and adorable.
Hannigan (Jennifer Hollett) is the epitome of the wretched orphanage warden that the character is painted up to be. Hollett embodies the drunken embittered hag with a great vim and vigor, expressing her detestations for the little urchins of her home with no qualms to her true feelings. Hollett belts “Little Girls” with a ferocious sound that has qualities of madness and loathing that make the song uniquely hers. She even compensates for Rooster (David Hale) and his off-key singing during “Easy Street” by making up and matching harmonies on the fly. A truly talented performer who never misses a beat when it comes to the orphans and getting her digs in.
The orphans truly make the show. A powerful synchronized sound that echoes with strength from this ragtag bunch of bedraggled kids really keeps the show moving. When singing their version of “Fully Dressed” the orphan girls easily out sing Beatrice Healy and the actual Boylan sisters, putting on their best faces for such a show-stopping number. And of course when they are performing “Hard Knock Life” the audience gets a real understanding of just how miserable their little lives are.
Keep your eyes peeled for little miss Molly (Sophia Riazi Sekowski) A total show stealer as the youngest of the orphans, she’s a precocious performer who keeps all eyes on her when she acts up and does things like end up in the laundry bin. Sekowski’s impersonation of Miss Hannigan is flawlessly hilarious, so be sure to be on the lookout for this little powder keg.
The true success here is of course the ring-leader of the orphans, the title character, Annie (Julia Laje). Her voice is pure and smooth but extremely strong and well presented. Her rendition of “Tomorrow” is packed to the brim with hopeful optimism and uniquely syncopated to provide a little spice to the ageless classic tune. Her voice stands out in all of the group numbers, even during “Hooverville” a song performed by at least a dozen adults. Quite the talented performer, Laje is easily the orphan everyone wants to adopt for Christmas.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Annie plays through December 22, 2012 at Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. To reserve your seats please call the box office at (301) 617-9906.