Annie The Musical
Calgary Alberta's Theatre Storybook
J. P Thibodeau
Each holiday season, I’ve seen online discussion inevitably (and sometimes hilariously) ensue on whether a certain story, film or musical is a Christmas story, film or musical because the setting takes place during the holiday season. Take note ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ fans: I’m now going to add ‘Annie, The Musical’ to this discussion.
Film and musical theatre lovers are aware of this 1930’s Depression era story. The young Annie is determined to find her parents who abandoned her on the doorsteps of Miss Hannigan’s orphanage over ten years ago. With the help of the girls from the orphanage, Annie escapes and enters two opposite worlds in New York City from the shantytowns of the Hoovervilles to the palatial mansion of billionaire tycoon and industrialist Oliver Warbucks.
Amid this basic story premise, we also have the typical good guys and cruel bad guys, adorable, orphaned children and Sandy, the beautiful golden retriever, who behaved so well on camera from what I could see.
Over the years, I always had mixed thoughts about seeing live productions of ‘Annie’ as I’ve found them to overindulge in a saccharine coating of sugary sweetness. I’ve only seen the 1982 John Huston film (wasn’t a fan of it) once. So, when Calgary’s StoryBook Theatre got in touch with me to review ‘Annie’, I wondered what I was getting myself into when I agreed to do it.
And am I ever thankful the company got in touch with me.
This ‘Annie’ is delightfully charming family fare. StoryBook Theatre’s production in partnering with OCL Studio for the soundtrack poignantly reflects how this is a story of a feel-good musical about a little girl who dreams about the glories and surprises of tomorrow.
And that positive message is something we all need to hear right now given the fact we are all patiently waiting for tomorrow to arrive when we can emerge from this global pandemic with a safe vaccine. We will be changed but as Annie sings “The sun will come out and clear away the cobwebs and the sorrow.”
Meticulously and admiringly staged by Director Jayme Armstrong (whom I remember from years ago on CBC’S ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?) with adroit film direction by JP Thibodeau, the pacing of this streamed production mercifully flows naturally and smoothly from scene to scene. From what I also understand, the Alberta Health Services provided direct guidance and supervision to ensure the safety of everyone involved from the actors to the technical crew backstage. Hats off to the province for its assistance to support of the performing arts.
There is so much to appreciate about this streamed production from behind the scenes to onstage. Rich Davis’ set design along with JJ Peneranda’s decoration filled the playing space appropriately where needed from the claustrophobic Miss Hannigan’s orphanage right to Oliver Warbucks’ palatial mansion. Co-Costume Designers Ralamy Kneeshaw, Catherine Handford and their team created impressive costumes reflective of the Depression era setting. Cat Bentley and Melody Kielek’s work respectively in hair and makeup designs complimented the performers and the development of their characters.
Period piece plays are always a challenge to find the right props, but I must compliment the work of Mikee Ames and Brad Laberge. JP Thibodeau’s taut lighting design pleasingly fills the stage when necessary to create desired effects in mood and tone of the scene.
One of the things I commend about this production was the important fact I could hear every single word in the song lyrics, so thank you so much to the sound recording from OCL Studio, the film team and the splendid work of Musical Director Joel Schaefer. Angela Benson’s choreography is knock down electric especially in the orphanage’s opening number ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ and the sleazy and slinky ‘Easy Street’ performed by Miss Hannigan, Rooster and Lily St. Regis.
Comedian W. C. Fields years ago made a comment about never working with children or animals because they are scene-stealing and unpredictable. Guess what, Mr. Fields - this production proved you wrong as these young performers never once upstaged anyone during the performance. And Sandy (Maggie), the dog, I want to bring that animal home with me because she behaved so beautifully.
Alexa Andrews is convincing as the roguish Annie. The ensemble of girls in the orphanage are completely adorable ragamuffins right from the childlike Molly (Allysha Nolasco) to the rough and tough Pepper (Aisha Kueh). The adult ensemble chorus dramatically brought to focus the Depression era tension in ‘We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover’ and provided an uplifting juxtaposition in their work at the Warbucks’ mansion in ‘I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here’ and ‘NYC’.
As gruff tycoon and billionaire Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks who wanted an orphan boy with whom to spend the Christmas holidays, Brent Gill is grandly imposing when he first appears, and this works to his advantage as the chemistry between he and Ms. Andrews is believably engaging when Warbucks allows the little girl to touch his hardened, business like heart. Janeen Derochie is a plausible Grace Farrell (personal secretary to Oliver Warbucks) who provides that strong female role model influence on Annie.
For some reason, many actors love having fun playing the bad guys and I also saw it here. The drunkenly cruel Miss Hannigan is wonderfully played to the hilt by Amanda Rae Cross.
I have never heard Miss Hannigan’s ‘Little Girls’ played with such hilarious seduction at one moment and, in a split second later, a woefully amusing elegy of her life passing by. Her shady criminal brother Rooster (David Grof) and his spicy gun moll Lily St. Regis (Jillian Bauer) enjoyably add to the comic mischievousness as the three try to rip off Warbucks’ millions and flee the city. Their rendition of ‘Easy Street’ fittingly and wittingly reflects their tacky and trashy outlook on life and how to make a quick buck.
Final Comments: I watched this streamed production on my computer and kept wondering how it would have been better to have reviewed it on my 56-inch television screen as I would have been able to appreciate even more the look of the Hungry Thirties that was captured succinctly on this stage.
Both Ms. Armstrong and Mr. Thibodeau spoke at the beginning of the production and delivered some behind the scenes info that I don’t want to spoil here. Make sure you stick around to the end of the credits as you will see some rehearsal footage of the performers as they are working at home through Zoom.
To purchase online tickets and to learn more about the production and the cast, visit Annie the Musical | SBT2020 (storybooktheatre.org)
The production runs online to January 17, 2021.
To learn more about Calgary, Alberta, Canada’s StoryBook Theatre, please visit their Facebook page: Storybook Theatre or their website: www.storybooktheatre.org.
Photo of Alexa Andrew as Annie and Brent Gill as Oliver Warbucks by JP Thibodeau.
Annie, The Musical: Book by THOMAS MEEHAN with music by CHARLES STROUSE and lyrics by MARTIN CHARNIN
Based on Little Orphan Annie by permission of THE MEDIA TRIBUNE SERVICES, INC
Directed by Jayme Armstrong
Musical Director | JOEL SCHAEFER
Choreographer | ANGELA BENSON
Stage Manager | JOY HODGSON
Assistant Stage Manager | JENNIFER YEUNG
Assistant Stage Manager | MICHAEL LUONG
Assistant Stage Manager | MICHELLE DRESSLER
Co-Costume Designer | RALAMY KNEESHAW
Co-Costume Designer | CATHERINE HANDFORD
Hair Designer | CAT BENTLEY
Make-Up Designer | MELODY KIELEK
Costume Design Assistant | RYAN Musical MASCHKE
Lighting Designer | JP THIBODEAU
Set Designer & Master Carpenter | RICH DAVIS
Set Decorator & Assistant | JJ PENERANDA
Stage Painting | LORIE MASUR
Co-Properties Designer | MIKEE AMES
Co-Properties | BRAD LABERGE
Lighting Crew | SKYLAR DESJARDINS
Graphic Design | JENNIFER MERIO
Public Relations | ALDON
Film Direction | JP THIBODEAU
Director of Photography | KRIS MISH
Lighting Programmer | IAN McCLELLAN
Script Supervisor | JENNIFER YEUNG
Location Sound | BRENDA SEVILLA
Production Assistant | ADAM FORWARD
Production Assistant | LLOYD CADAY
Production Assistant | ROBERT HERTZ
Production Assistant | SKYLAR DESJARDINS
Soundtrack Recording | OCL STUDIOS
Music Editor & Supervisor | JOSH GWILLIAM
Video Editor | JP THIBODEAU
Assistant Editor | GRAHAM KINGSLEY
Assistant Editor | KRIS MISH
Executive Producer | STORYBOOK THEATRE