The sun has come out at the Pasadena Theatre Company as they present their summer production of Annie. A children’s classic and a favorite of the young and young at heart, this well-recognized fun loving musical, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and the book by Thomas Meehan, is perfect for the middle of heated July with its jaunty reminder that Christmas is a lot closer than we think. A well rounded cast that features some stellar performers is brought to the stage under the direction of Chuck Dick and the bright and optimistic hopes of the little orphan girl is shared to everyone in the audience.
Costume Coordinator Karen Eske gets all of the orphans looking absolutely filthy and bedraggled as well as ensuring that everyone looks as close to depression-era New York City fashion as possible. Eske does remarkable work with Anne’s never-ending plethora of outfits once she reaches the Warbucks’ mansion. From the signature red dress for her adoption party to the adorable blue sailor style jumper, Eske makes Annie the life of every party.
When involving a large ensemble, particularly a large children’s ensemble, dance routines can be tricky but Choreographer Timoth David Copney executes simplistic ideas that work well for this abundant cast, making them look smooth, clean, and incredibly polished. Between the hearty stomping/marching routine saved for “Hard Knock Life” and the adorable two-stepping routine complete with a full-length kicking-chorus line for “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile (Reprise)” the dance numbers designed for the orphans are incredible. Keep your eye on Duffy (Katie Sacha) who shows off a little bit of her soft-tap routine during “You’re Never Fully Dressed…”
Director Chuck Dick gathers an incredible group of talent in the community for this performance. And generally orphans forever (as the show only calls for six plus Annie) is a bad idea, however, having 18 orphans in this production is exactly what the company needs as the stage they play upon is enormous. Having the big orphan ensemble fills the stage and keeps scenes in Miss Hannigan’s horrid orphanage from looking blank and vacuous. And the sound these girls produce is incredible. None of the orphans are on microphone (except of course Annie) but you never have an issue with hearing them. Not only do they have a forceful sound so that they can be heard way at the back of the auditorium, these girls have talented singing voices and stay on pitch for nearly all of the show. They boldly belt both “Hard Knock Life” and “Hard Knock Life (Reprise)” with gusto and a keen sense of intonation.
The adult ensemble, by comparison, is a little lackluster, though they are trying. Their biggest problem is being heard. Numbers like “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover,” and “I Think I’m Gonna like It Here” get washed away by the music. Grace (Sandra Rardon) is equally soft-sung and cannot seem to find a range that allows her voice to be heard. When she drops into the lower notes of “I Think I’m Gonna like It Here” she washes away, and the same happens for her upper range in “Annie” and her harmonies for “N.Y.C.” are non-existent.
The good times and yucks come from the show’s three character actors, Rooster (Zak Zeeks) his hot date Lily St. Regis (Malarie Novotny) and the drunken horror Miss Hannigan (Christy Stouffer). Swaying about the orphanage with her shrill screeching voice and utter loathing for children wildly on display, Stouffer does the crotchety character a swift justice. You can tell from the moment she stumbles to the stage that she’s a nasty soul and when she starts screaming her infamous song “Little Girls” you get a true feeling for just how wicked she can be. Novotny and Zeeks play up the conniving couple with zest, Zeeks in particular as a thuggish conman who works every angle present. When the trio join forces for “Easy Street” they razzle dazzle the audience with their facial expressions and tricky-slick dancing.
Dapper and dashing Bert Healey (David Merrill) lights up the opening of Act II. Merrill is the epitome of the old-softie radio show host, and has a stunning charm when he starts swaying behind the big broadcaster microphone. His voice is rich, pure and extremely powerful for “You’re Never Truly Blessed Without A Smile.” The becomes the best adult-performed number of the show because of Merrill’s talented voice. Watch him pop up later as FDR and listen for him to join Annie in resplendent harmony during the cabinet version of “Tomorrow.”
Warbucks (Chuck Dick) has a gorgeous baritone voice that brings a rich quality to numbers like “N.Y.C.” and “Something Was Missing.” His duet with Annie, “I Don’t Need Anything But You” is a sublime jaunt of good fun and real caring. If only he could keep his speaking lines straight he’d be the perfect performer. Dick stumbles over his lines from his arrival at the mansion to the Christmas party ending making his character seem terribly forgetful and at times out of place. But his singing voice is so magical you almost forgive him for these mistakes.
Annie (Julia Salatti) is nothing short of sensational. Her voice is the perfect blend of mature and childish; being able to belt and hold notes at the end of “Tomorrow” like a professional singer while still maintaining the youthful sound that is expected of the orphan’s age. Salatti’s magnificent voice hits every note and she brings a vibrant undiscovered life to “Maybe.” Her ability to transform these well recognized songs into music that’s being heard for the first time is simply stunning. Salatti deserves high praise for her stage presence as well as her ability to blend harmonies, and is a true treasure of a performer.
Hey— hobo man, hey— dapper Dan, make sure you’re fully dressed with a smile and come on down to see Annie before the Pasadena Theatre Company strikes a new deal and moves on to their next show.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes,with one intermission.
Annie plays through July 21, 2013 at Pasadena Theatre Company at Hammonds Lane Theatre in The Chesapeake Arts Center – 194 Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 636-6597, or purchase them online.