Thomas Meehan (Book); Charles Strouse (Music); Martin Charnin (Lyrics)
|Sandy & Tori Bates|
As the trumpet and trombone trade notes and intertwine in an opening duet of just a few seconds, the universally familiar words must be running through virtually all audience members’ heads: “The sun will come out ... tomorrow.” It would seem that if there is someone sitting in the packed San Jose Center for Performing Arts audience who does not know the song and the storyline of the musical to follow, that person must be in the lower, single digits of age (of which there were certainly many there, some seemingly as young as three or four).
Part of the reason so many of us return time and time again to see the 1977 Tony-winning Best Musical Annie is to experience one more time the excitement of all those fresh faces who for the first time are meeting Annie, her troupe of orphan friends, Daddy Warbucks, Miss Hannigan, and of course, Sandy (always the cutest, most amazingly behaved critter ever to grace a major stage). We also return again and again to these seemingly annual tours to hear the songs known by heart whose clever lyrics by Martin Charnin are now emblazoned in our hearts along with the familiar tunes by Charles Strouse that we can all hum– songs that support Thomas Meehan’s feel-good story that comes with a 100% guarantee that even the hardest among us will shed at least a couple of tears at some point during the next couple of hours.
So well known is the story that to recapitulate it in a review seems a waste of space and certainly not necessary for most readers. Who does not know that this is the tale of an eleven-year-old, red-and-kinky-haired girl (who has been played through the years by hundreds of belting lassies including the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Molly Ringwald) who was abandoned in 1922 at birth and left to reside in a Depression-era dump of an orphanage? Who cannot recall the whisky-slugging, mean-as-can-be Miss Hannigan who runs the orphanage like a boot camp (and whom we love to hate because she is so deliciously funny and has been played in the past by comics like Carol Burnett, Dorothy Loudon, and Jane Lynch)? And the cartoon script of old that only a few of the oldest of us can still remember reading every morning in the newspaper (and how many can recall even reading a newspaper?) comes further to life when see the bald billionaire Oliver Warbucks jumps from the newsprint to the stage as he decides to invite an orphan to his mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue for a two-week Christmas vacation. The love affair that develops between Annie and her Daddy Warbucks we know will lead to an eventual adoption; but we also know there is first evil to overcome, a Depression to aid, and intervention by FDR himself before these two unlikely pals (along with an adorable mutt named Sandy) will become family.
|Tori Bates & the Orphans of "Annie"|
For all those who cringe a bit at the sound of the high-pitched, almost shouting screeches of young girls’ singing voices (think finger nails on a chalk board), the first couple numbers of Annie may tempt them to head quickly for the Exit sign. But then there is something to be said for the fun and energy of eight urchins in rags blasting out the extremely popular “It’s the Hard Knock Life.”
Even when Annie herself (in this tour, played by young Tori Bates of Sarasota, Florida) provides us with the first “Tomorrow” of the night, there is still a bit over-singing that can be excused just because she is so sincere in her highly dramatic presentation. We begin to warm up to her high-pitched vocals as she is joined by a full ensemble of Depression-poor, ‘Hooverville’ street folks in a well-sung, well-choreographed (thanks to Dance Captain David Vogel) “We’d Like to Thank You” (i.e. Herbert Hoover, “you dirty rat, you bureaucrat, you made us what we are today”). As the story progresses, our Annie totally settles down; and her young voice tempers to find more beauty and less bellow in numbers like “Maybe” (which she is called upon to sing several times). And Tori Bates certainly shows maturity beyond her years in her acting as she ably carries the iconic role of Annie through all the twists and turns of the story to come.
But for anyone who did stumble into Annie somehow not realizing that there are going to be a bevy of little girls doing all they can to win hearts and cause lumps in throats, patience provides its rewards. Once the adult characters begin to appear on the stage, the quality of vocals in this particular production soars time and again -- along with the ability to amuse and amaze with Broadway-quality acting, dancing, and comedic talents. Top of the list is Erin Fish as the whistle-blowing, drill-sergeant Miss Hannigin who seems always to have a pint in her pocket and a penchant to be livid over her lot in life as the orphanage matron. With a voice nothing short of fabulous in its clarity of tone and its ability to switch into cartoonish, clownish sounds as needed, she lets us know just how much she hates “little shoes, little socks, and each little bloomer” in “Little Girls.”
|Mallory King, Michael Santora & Erin Fish|
Later Miss Hannigan is joined by her co-conspirators to wrestle Annie and a $50K reward away from Oliver Warbucks in one of the night’s most delightful and funny numbers. Michael Santora and Mallory King are her brother Rooster and his floosy girlfriend Lily; and together they are ready to “move them ever-lovin’ feet” to “Easy Street” as they concoct how to fool Warbucks et al that Rooster and Lily are Annie’s long-lost parents (now pig/chicken farmers in Canada). Mr. Santora’s crooning tenor and Ms. King’s strong soprano join Ms. Fish’s proven pipes as they sing in harmony while shuffling their feet, shimmying their shoulders, and swinging wildly their hips in a dance that brings down the house – both the first time for “Easy Street” and again in reprise.
Equally impressive are a bevy of other characters, large and small in the story. As Oliver (soon-to-be-“Daddy”) Warbucks, Gilgamesh Taggett immediately is a larger-than-life character doing full justice to his cartoon-strip heritage as he leads Annie and a stage full of his mansion’s staff in a night-time tour of the Big Apple in “N.Y.C.” His ability to trumpet sustained notes of grandeur matches the City’s wonders. Later, he offers a softer, heartfelt stream of exacting syllables in “Something Was Missing” as he realizes how much he needs Annie to complete his fortune-rich, power-wielding life. When he and Annie duet in “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” the two blend the best of a rich baritone and a young soprano into a number that easily is a winner.
The treasures of this cast are scattered everywhere. Casey Prins as Warbucks’ able and (clearly) adoring assistant, Grace Farrell, has her own moments to score big with a voice that is crystal clear and able to rise in volume with not an ounce of distortion. Jeffrey B. Duncan has the looks and the demeanor for a credible F.D.R.; but even more important, this President can sing! When he is joined by Annie, Warbucks, and members of his cabinet for a reprise of “Tomorrow,” the Commander-in-Chief discovers that the optimism of this bold youngster is just what his team needs to inspire a “new deal” for the country.
Timothy Allen as Harold Ickes is jolted to his feet by his President to sing “The sun will come out.” He is soon joined (at first in reluctant whispers and then in increasing conviction and full-voiced harmony) by Roxy York as Frances Perkins, Connor Simpson as Cordell Hull, and Todd Berkich as Henry Morganthau – all real persona of our nation’s history. The result is a rousing reprise of the musical’s most famous song (“Tomorrow”) that almost has the audience standing and joining in.
Director Marin Charnin does not miss a chance to add fun and surprises to the show as even minor characters get a moment to draw special applause. A good example is a number of moves by Drake (Adam Du Plessis), one of the household servants whose seemingly spontaneous sparks of actions bring out a personality we would otherwise easily overlook.
For a traveling show that makes short stops (just three days in San Jose), the scenic designs of Beowulf Boritt are indeed impressive, from grimy scenes of the Lower East Side to the open spaces of Central Park to the magnificence of the Warbucks Mansion. Greatly aiding the overall effect is an excellent lighting design by Ken Billington as well as the period-perfect costumes of both the poor and the rich by Suzy Benzinger. Keith Levenson leads from his position on keyboards an outstanding orchestra of seven who do great justice to the beloved score Charles Strouse.
Some may wonder why indeed we need yet another tour of this much-toured musical now forty years old -- one also oft-produced on stages big and small all across the country. Perhaps the capacity audience on this opening night is looking in early 2017 for the same advice that Annie gives herself and F.D.R. as we now face an uncertain future, given the recent election: “Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun!”
Rating: 4 E
Annie continues through January 8, 2017, as part of Broadway San Jose’s offerings at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose. Tickets are available online at http://broadwaysanjose.com.
Photo Credits: Joan Marcus
Photo Credits: Joan Marcus