Nancy Sasso Janis
"How I hate
And each little bloomer
I'd have cracked
If it weren't for my
Sense of humor" - "Little Girls" sung by Miss Hannigan in 'Annie' Music by Charles Strouse Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Elmsford, NY - The beloved musical ‘Annie,’ the winner of seven Tony Awards that debuted in the summer of 1976 at the Goodspeed Opera House in CT, returns to the Westchester Broadway Theatre. The WBT’s first production of the show was back in 1983 when Margaret Hosier played the leading role. The current production marks the dinner theatre’s 201st production and Ms. Hosier was in the audience for the opening night celebration on Thursday evening.
The director/choreographer Mary Jane Houdina has a long history with ‘Annie.’ She was dance captain and assistant to the choreographer Peter Gennaro with the original Broadway production; in addition to covering all the female roles, she also prepared the national companies of the musical for touring. She shared with this talented cast that the show is much more than the two-dimensional “Little Orphan Annie” characters upon which they are based. “There’s a tendency to think comic strip, but it’s not. And the more real you play it, the better the show is,” the director told public relations director Pia Haas.
The mark of realness was apparent without overwhelming the shows ability to warm the heart. The grittiness of “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” in the New York orphanage was enhanced with young actresses acting like kids. “N.Y.C.” featured a cross section of citizens of the city, including children, while the opulence of the Warbuck’s residence was set against the dinginess of Miss Hannigan’s office that rose out of the floor of the three sided stage. Good projections helped to take the audience to the various outdoor locations. Michael Bottari and Ronald Case designed the sets that were nicely lit by Andrew Gmoser.
Peyton Ella of Irvington snagged the dream role of the red-headed orphan Annie. This young lady played Gretl in NBC’s television version of ‘Sound of Music LIVE’ and can belt the necessary Annie notes while still playing a young girl. The actress is proud to be following in the footsteps of her mother who played the roles of Kate and Annie in the original production of ‘Annie’ on Broadway, and her little brother Elliot was recently traveling with the first national tour of ‘Kinky Boots.’ Her grandmother was a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. Kaylin Hedges of Valley Cottage plays the role at Sunday performances.
A group of local girls played the orphans in the show and didn’t lose their realness and charm. Anika Bobra, Tahlia Ellie, Haylie Christiano, Ruby Griffin, Maureen Henshaw, Nora Kennedy, Molly Lyons, Sasha Murray, Lucy Neureuther (‘Oliver’ at WBT,) Ella Stanley, Lauren Sun and Gabriella Uhl alternate performance of the named roles and all did very well.
Sunny, a 7-year-old terrier mix, appeared as Sandy the dog. He was rescued from a kill shelter and appeared in the 2014 revival of ‘Annie’ on Broadway, and in the national tour. He was the subject of an NBC special entitled ‘Annie’s Search for Sandy.’ Sunny follows in the line of great Sandy dogs rescued and trained by Bill Berloni. Rochelle Smith was the dog handler for this production.
Michael DeVries (‘Wicked,’ ‘Hello, Dolly’ on Broadway; The Baron in both Broadway’s and WBT’s ‘Grand Hotel’) was an endearing Daddy Warbucks, the billionaire businessman who grows to love the orphan. Broadway veteran Susann Fletcher was very good in the role of the boozy Miss Hannigan; she nailed the comedy in “Easy Street.” Mr. Warbucks’ lovely secretary Grace Farrell was gracefully portrayed by Celeste Hudson (‘Show Boat’ at WBT.)
Miss Hannigan’s con-artist brother, Rooster, was brought to vivid life by Adam Roberts (‘Pippin’ and ‘Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark’ on Broadway.) His partner in crime Lily St. Regis was played well by Aubrey Sinn (Maria in WBT’s ‘Sound of Music.’) John-Charles Kelly was presidential and funny in the role of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The roles of Hooverville-ites, citizens of NYC, policemen and the attentive Warbuck staff were played by Robert Abdoo, Kelly Black, Laura Cable, Joseph Cullinane, Jesse Lynn Harte, Carl Hulden, Ryan Alexander Jacobs, Kelsey Self, Rochelle Smith, Roger Preston Smith (in his 10th WBT production,) and Billy Clark Taylor. The ensemble members also played a slew of minor roles most impressively.
Musical Director William Stanley played keyboards with five other musicians in the backstage pit and it all sounded great. Costumes designed by Suzy Benzinger were period appropriate and mostly flattering; wig/hair design by Shannon Harrington was the same. Properties by Grumpy Props included some fine vintage pieces.
My teenaged son called this WBT production the best ‘Annie’ he has ever seen. Many gentlemen wear suit jackets to this theatre and I borrowed my companion’s when the air conditioning made me chilly. The Westchester Broadway Theatre (WBT) is the longest running year-round Equity theatre in the state of New York, with a 42-year history of nearly 200 main-stage productions and nearly 1000 Monday/Tuesday special events and concerts. Their objective with this world-class venue is to always provide our audiences – which come from far and wide – with the highest production values and most memorable entertainment/dining experiences.The spunky redheaded optimist will continue to look towards “Tomorrow” through September 10.
Photos by John Vecchiolla