Reston Community Players (RCP) serves up a tasty dish of that ultimate Broadway comfort food, Annie. Cooked up by Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) in 1977, and directed here by RCP veteran Sue Pinkman, the meal may be full of empty calories, but the presentation is delightful.
Begin with the orphan ensemble, six girls of varying sizes and ages, budding triple threats all. Their “Hard Knock Life” and “Fully Dressed” reprise are the dance highlights of the evening, with Elizabeth Cha nailing a tap solo in the latter. Jolene Vettese’s choreography is top-notch throughout, including several numbers featuring the adult ensemble – the members of which also move exceedingly well – and “Easy Street,” a lively trio for Miss Hannigan, Rooster, and, Lily.
Speaking of Miss Hannigan, Jennifer Redford is spectacular in the role, her acting and vocals bringing a Bernadette Peters-ish vibe to the unscrupulous and tyrannical orphanage manager who hates “Little Girls,” as she sings, and is perpetually looking for a man or a scheme to better her circumstances. Her brother Rooster (Joshua Redford) and his floozie girlfriend Lily (Emily Jennings) are comic, believably bumbling, con-artist wannabes who conspire with Miss Hannigan in a scheme to pose as Annie’s long-lost parents for a large monetary reward. In his disguise as a Manitoba farmer, Rooster even presents a credible Canadian accent.
Doug Marcks is a satisfying Oliver Warbucks, the brusque, overbearing billionaire who develops a soft spot for Annie, best expressed in the tender “Something Missing,” arguably the best-written song in the show. His loyal secretary and not-quite love interest Grace Farrell (Claire Jeffrey) sings strong solo passages in “N.Y.C.” and “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here” and brings a note of nuance to her character, welcome in a show that tends to call for single-note performances (it was based on a comic strip, after all).
Annie herself (Kylee Hope Geraci in Saturday night’s performance; Eva Jaber will play the role on other occasions) is, as the show requires, unremittingly cheerful, energetic, and plucky; occasionally wistful; and insistently adorable. Music director Sam Weich takes her iconic number, “Tomorrow,” at a quicker tempo than heard in many performances, a good choice that increases its effectiveness. Geraci delivers the number in a penetrating voice, also scoring in “Maybe” and her part of “Hard Knock Life.”
“Tomorrow” is, in its staging, a sort of duet. Annie’s non-singing partner is Sandy, played by an exceptionally well-trained Shetland Sheepdog named Whimsy, who has several notable comic moments of his own, and who gets the final entrance in the curtain call. Good dog!
Among the supporting cast, Andy Gable as Warbucks’ stiff butler, Drake, and Nathan Ramee, in a dual role as radio pitchman Bert Healy and FDR staffer Harold Ickes, stand out. Ickes’ transformation from reluctant participant to over-the-top performer in a reprise of “Tomorrow” is a particular hoot. President Roosevelt himself (Richard Durkin) is played using his wheelchair, something the historical FDR avoided like the plague when interacting with the public.
RCP has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the strongest technical theater companies in the area’s community theater scene, and Annie does not disappoint. On entering the theater, the audience sees the stage festooned with several clotheslines of white garments, flown up to reveal the rest of Matt Liptak’s initial orphanage set. The production makes effective use of the stage’s fly space to drop in well-painted backdrops (Cathy Rieder is the scenic artist) representing the Warbucks mansion and what might be called a view from under the bridge, the setting for “Tomorrow” and “Hooverville.”
With a large ensemble playing a variety of roles, Annie is a big costume show, and Kathy Dunlap’s varied designs – plain dresses for the orphans, formal servant attire for Warbucks’ household staff, Warbucks’ well-tailored suit, humorously tacky getups for the radio show participants, Miss Hannigan’s attempts at sexual allure, and pert outfits for Annie as she becomes part of the Warbucks world, among others – contribute color and character to the performances.
Jeff Scott Auerbach’s lighting design got applause for the bright lights of New York that illuminate city signs in the “N.Y.C.” scene, but there were lovely little moments as well, like a reddish glow when Rooster and Lily peer down toward the orchestra pit in apparent remembrance of their mother’s post-mortem destination.
Pinkman doubled as hair and makeup designer, and there were some nice touches in that department as well. Annie’s red wig was less egregious than in many productions, and Lily’s transition from platinum blonde floozie hair to mousy dark hair as she impersonated Annie’s mother was notable as well.
Handling all aspects of a large-scale musical well is always a test for even a top-level community theater group, and RCP passes the test with flying colors. The audience enjoyed every moment.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.
Orphans: Jane Keifer, Molly; Della McCahill, Tessie; Elizabeth Cha, Kate; Madelyn Regan, July; Elenora Fiel, Duffy; Eliana Redford, Pepper
Ensemble: Marissa Dolcich, Richard Durkin, Andy Gable, Aidan Goggin, Earle S. Greene, Kate Keifer, Kirk Kaneer, Nathan Ramee, Katie Pond, Jennifer Stevens, Sara Watson