‘Annie’ at Colonial Players by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR STARS
Leapin’ lizards! Little orphan Annie has made her way to the stage just in time for Christmas at Colonial Players! The holiday classic brings a New Deal for Christmas to the stage and really brings joy to the hearts of every boy and girl this time of year. Little orphan Annie finds herself the luckiest orphan in New York City in 1933 when she gets the opportunity of a lifetime to spend two weeks at the Warbucks mansion with the billionaire himself. Of course, all Annie really wants is to find her folks, who left her at the orphanage 11 years before. A a heartwarming tale perfect for the entire family, this production of Annie has some of the area’s most talented young actors on their stage. Directed by Joe Thompson with Musical Direction by Roger Compton, a little holiday magic is all it takes to make sure everyone leaves wearing a smile.

Grace (Kaelynn Miller), Annie (Daphne Eckman), and Daddy Warbucks (Timothy Sayles). Photo by Colburn Images.
Grace (Kaelynn Miller), Annie (Daphne Eckman), and Daddy Warbucks (Timothy Sayles). Photo by Colburn Images.

Keeping true to the theme of the depression still in full swing in 1933, Set Designer Edd Miller and Costume Designer Carol Youmans keep things exceedingly simple. The drab and dreary rags reserved for the hobos and the orphans are most befitting of the impoverished nation of America during the depression. Youmans keeps the classier outfits reserved for Warbucks and Grace tasteful but plain; showing that the economic crunch has even hit the big tycoons.

Choreographer Natasha Joyce really emphasizes the in-the-round setting of the stage in her routines. While the routines are simple they are joyful and playful to observe, especially the orphans and their wash-bucket slamming dance number during “Hard-Knock Life.” Joyce employs the use of circular chains and line-sweep formations to fill the playing space as much as possible while still presenting the audience with as many of the actors’ faces as possible. The gestures included in her circular dancing in “Hooverville” are particularly funny and really add that extra bang to the politically humorous number.

Director Joe Thompson crafts a lot of really funny moments into the production, subtle nuances that makes this production of Annie uniquely and individually his own. The opening scene in the orphanage with six girls sharing one very small bed is a riot because as they toss and turn they’re constantly rolling each other out of bed and onto the floor. Thompson creates scenes that rely heavily on physical comedy— like the antics that occur between Miss Hannigan and Annie when Grace is trying to specify which type of orphan she’d like for the holidays. These little moments that are mostly silent and unscripted really add a splash of extra holiday hilarity to the quaint classic.

AnnielogoMusical Director Roger Compton does exceptionally good work with the children in the production. The orphan chorus (at this performance comprised of Anna Grace Keller, Rachel Kalafos, Catherine Osikowicz, Charlize Lefler, Annalie Ellis, and Sarah Kalafos) is particularly strong, robust and really boisterous for being so few of them. Their singing voices are easily heard for numbers like “Hard-Knock Life” and “Fully Dressed.” Compton’s work with the adult ensemble, however is a little less impressive. The adult ensemble, which is easily double the size, are far too quiet and often fading out in big song numbers like “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” and “N.Y.C.” But what they lack in vocal projection they make up for with animated gestures and facial expressions.

Notable members of the adult ensemble include Sarah Wade as the ‘Star-to-Be’ featured in the number “N.Y.C.” With an enormous belt and bright shining voice, Wade is heard for miles with her solo verse; a gleaming beacon of vocal prowess. Tami Howie, playing as a Boylan Sister and Cecile (a Warbucks mansion servant) has a voice that is easily distinguishable in “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” and gives a particularly engaging rendition of “Hooverville” as a part of the ensemble.

The campy comic nature of Rooster (Stevie Mangum) and Lily St. Regis (Maddie Poole) is highly entertaining. An unctuous cad from the moment he slips into the scene, Mangum is aces at being a sleazy no-goodnik and has a really swarthy charm about his persona. Poole, as the obnoxious bimbo girlfriend plays her character way over the top, stealing the scene for good measure with her crass accent and wild gestures. The pair aren’t the strongest of singers when it comes to “Easy Street” but man do their outrageous dance moves make up for it! You’ll find yourself tapping your toes and laughing along during their entire scene!

Featured in that scene, and all throughout the show, is the horrible tyrant Miss Hannigan (Rebecca Feibel). There is a charming humanity layered into Feibel’s presentation of Hannigan, so much so that when she presents her stellar solo “Little Girls” you almost feel bad for her. Feibel plays the character with a flavorful zest, a spirited rendition that makes her ‘medicine drinking’ habit most enthralling. Feibel brings a little extra zing to the disgruntled woman, her sharp tongue really doing a number on some of the one-liners, adding extra laughs here and there.
Grace (Kaelynn Miller) and Daddy Warbucks (Timothy Sayles) make for a rather genuine pair of sweet adults, particularly when it comes to interacting with Annie. Miller’s sweet soprano voice is unfortunately very airy and often lost in songs like “N.Y.C.” and “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here.” Her gentle nature and cheery disposition makes up for not being able to hear her. Sayles struggles with being heard as well and has difficulty singing the lower notes in Warbucks’ range. He also struggles with his lines from time to time but is absolutely precious and priceless in moments he shares with Annie (Daphne Eckman). Sayles shares the most adorable moment with Eckman during “I Don’t Need Anything But You” where they both sing a sweet song at one another and Sayles has Eckman dancing on top of his feet in true daddy-daughter fashion. Their heartwarming relationship brings a smile to everyone’s face.

As for Eckman, the young performer is incredibly talented. Her keen sense of pitch and timing serves her well in “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” and the belt that she produces for these numbers is sensational. She portrays Annie as scrappy and honest with a too-cute approach to certain moments throughout the production. Her gumption makes Annie a real character, a thorough delight to watch on the stage.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

Annie plays through December 7, 2013 at The Colonial Players of Annapolis— 108 East Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.