From toe-tapping numbers, to adorable orphans, there are few things as purely wonderful for the soul as a production of Annie, and Prince William Little Theatre delivers a production like no other. Director Melissa Jo York-Tilley takes a much-beloved story and makes it feel fresh.
If you have somehow gone through life without ever experiencing Annie, the plot is surprisingly complex. Set in the Great Depression, Annie is the story of a plucky, optimistic orphan named Annie (Michelle Stein) under the dubious care of matron Miss Hannigan (Melanie McCleerey). When Annie runs away, she befriends a stray dog she names Sandy (Tucker MacFarlane, a very well-behaved golden retriever) and then spends a very brief stint in a Hooverville, only to be returned back to the orphanage. She doesn’t stay there long; Grace Farrell (Sarah Jane Scott) arrives on a quest to find an orphan to spend the Christmas holiday with Mr. Oliver Warbucks (Ahmad Maaty), a stuffy billionaire business tycoon.
Annie quickly melts Warbucks’ icy demeanor and within a week, he wants to adopt her. Before he can ask her, Annie tells Warbucks that she knows that her parents must still be alive and hopes they come back to get her. Though heartbroken, he calls in favors with the FBI and goes on The Oxydent Hour of Smiles radio show with Bert Healy (Tim McCleerey) to offer a fifty-thousand-dollar reward for Annie’s parents. Miss Hannigan and her brother, Rooster (Cameron Lee Conlan), along with his girlfriend, Lily St. Regis (Melanie McGuin) devise a nefarious plan to get the reward money, and by the end of this stunning musical, even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Drew Fleming) has been brought in to help save the day.
James Maxted’s set design can best be described as dynamic. In a theatre space with no grand and limited wing space, there is very little opportunity to drastically change the set, and Maxted ensures that with small changes to the dressing, the scenes have a fully different feel. The multi-talented Maxted doubles as the show’s music director. Christine Maxted is vocal director.
York-Tilley injects humor and energy into every scene through her comedic blocking and direction. When Bert Healy and The Boylan Sisters (Kacie Brady, Becca Harney, and Hayley Katarina) sing “Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile,” the chaos onstage is hilarious and perfectly timed. York-Tilley also provides hair and makeup design for the show.
Michelle Stein puts a completely different spin on the iconic role of Annie. She is equal parts kind and sassy, with a beautifully emotive voice that shines during “Maybe.” “Tomorrow,” possibly the best-known song from the musical, is sung teeming with an optimism so infectious, it’s hard not to smile and even harder not to sing along (something that is very strongly discouraged during the announcement at the beginning of the musical).
Stein is supported by a cadre of immensely adorable orphans: Marissa Prado, Itsuko Scoville, Hope Carey, Avery Heisey, Alannah McCleerey, Amelia Robertson, Carleigh Beckner, Cecilia Laird, Julissa Lambert, Elizabeth Maxted, Vanessa Maxted, Brielle McCleerey, Mila Weir, and Adrianna Weir. Mila Weir is the smallest, youngest orphan and so earnestly dances and sings with the rest of the orphan ensemble that it is very easy to get distracted by her inherent sweetness. The fact that I was able to pay attention to the rest of the orphans as well is honestly a testament to just how fantastic the entire orphan ensemble played together.
In a musical about orphans, it would be easy to overlook the excellent work done by the production’s many incredible adults. Sarah Jane Scott and Ahmad Maaty as Grace Farrell and Oliver Warbucks are incredibly strong, both together and apart. Scott has a gorgeous, almost operatic soprano voice that perfectly matches her endearingly kind character. Maaty handles the slow transformation from isolated, self-reliant tycoon to selfless softie with nuance and finesse. While I loved his singing, it was Maaty’s incomparable dancing that really stands out.
Melanie McCleerey’s Miss Hannigan is sultry, drunken, sullen, bitter, and outrageously funny. “Little Girls” is a masterclass in emotive comedic singing. Her trio with Cameron Lee Conlan and Melanie McGuin on “Easy Street” is some of the best work in the musical; all three work together to build a show-stopping number with amazing singing and tight choreography done expertly. (McGuin doubles as the show’s choreographer).
The adult ensemble rounds out the rest of a fantastic cast. My favorite people to watch are Becca Harney and Caty Nicholson. Harney’s strong and sardonic singing in “Hooverville” really stuck with me. Similarly, words can’t really describe how much Nicholson’s ventriloquist act as Fred McCracken and Wacky added during the radio show.
Tickets are selling out for the rest of the run, so make sure you buy yours online. This is a show that you won’t want to miss!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Annie, presented by Prince William Little Theatre, plays through July 28, 2019, at the Gregory Family Theater, Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, VA. Purchase tickets online.
Ensemble: Alex Tyree, Becca Harney, Caty Nicholson, Darcy Heisey, Don Wilson, Drew Fleming, Elizabeth Reyes, Eric Verchot, Hayley Katarina, Kacie Brady, Katie Morris, Kurt Gustafson, Kyle Prado, Lauren Jerothe, Lisa Arnold, MJ Madrigal, Pat McInerney, Stacy Crickmer, Tim McCleerey
Lighting Design: Ken and Patti Crowley
Costume Design: Kathy Dunlap
Properties Design: Kelsey Moran