A classic musical theatre show virtually everyone knows of, even if they haven’t seen it, ANNIE, is a very popular choice among community theatre organizations. It draws kids into the cast and can certainly pack them in the audience. Off Broad Street Player’s production is certainly no exception. The Levoy Theatre, a newly renovated theatre which reopened back in September after being closed for nearly 40 years, was buzzing! The bright marquee beckoned patrons into the beautiful theatre. What a treat just going in there!
Overall the production of ANNIE is adequate, with aspects of it ranging from rough around the edges to wonderfully delightful! The brightest stars of this production are its two lead characters, Annie (Julia Fumo) and Oliver Warbucks (David Halter).
Fumo is an amazing young talent with vocal abilities that will blow you away. She masterfully handles the role and brings real depth to the character. Aiding her in this endeavor is what seems to be a directorial choice not to stick to the typical caricaturization often found in productions of ANNIE. Fumo’s hair, while red, is straight and long. Her performance is natural and real, instead of cartoonish. She also has wonderful chemistry with “Daddy” Warbucks.
Halter, too, is a reflection of the aforementioned directorial choice. Sure, he has the stereotypical bald head, but his mannerisms are different than what is often seen. He moves, acts, and speaks very much as an entrepreneur today might. I suppose some might say that it is out of character for the setting of the show, but I found it to be a great approach which also adds to the realistic feel of the show. The range and styles of his songs seem to be on the upper reaches of Halter’s vocal abilities, but his acting, timing, and physical control more than make up for this.
The orphans (Clara Burghen, Emily Dugan, Katelyn Gallo, Alexandra Brodzick, Lena Dougherty, Rachel Griffith, Allison Lowry, Ammi Post, Treasa Morgan Hayes, and Anne Sheridan) are a group of young girls with surprising vocal talents of their own. In some songs, solos bounced around the group and each of these young ladies comes through. Burghen, as the littlest, Molly, is particularly hysterical! The orphans, too, exhibit great chemistry and are often called upon, by default, to get the production moving again.
Among the rough edges of the show, the biggest one has to be pacing. This is a long show to begin with, and at times the pacing is sluggish. Ironically, as my companions for the night (ages 13 and 10 respectively) delighted in pointing out, the slower pacing seems to be found in scenes with the adults, not the kids.
Another rough edge can be found with vocal blending. While often this is with the larger choral sections, it also applies to both renditions of “Easy Street”, a trio between Miss Hannigan (Shannon Sheridan), Rooster Hannigan (John Stephan) and Lily St. Regis (Kelsey Hogan). The members of the trio are wonderful character actors, but their voices just do not blend vocally during the song.
Another musical issue had to do with the interaction of the pit orchestra and the cast. The orchestra sounds wonderful, and it is nice having the underscore as well, but there are times when the cast and orchestra get off tempo with one another. There are also occasional balance issues in volumes between the two.
An honorable mention needs to go to William J. Dugan for his portrayal of radio host Bert Healy. People around me were thoroughly enjoying his over-the-top performance. Kudos!
At the end of the day, despite the issues, you just simply cannot go wrong with a show like ANNIE. Let’s face it, it is often the first show many kids see, and, at least among my generation, the show actors can point to as the one that got them interested in theatre. In my case, a fifth-grade production of ANNIE just happened to be my first musical. (Sorry, I refuse to “cop” to what role I played.) It is pretty much always worth seeing. Add to it the wonderful work of Fumo (about whom my companions used terms like “amazing”, “cool”, “awesome”, and, in one case, “cute”) , the work of Halter, and the beautiful setting of the Levoy Theatre, and you have a good night of entertainment.
The running time for the show is 3 hours and is rated G. But there is some very mild language in the show as a few of the adult characters forget to switch to “darn” in front of Annie.
ANNIE runs November 9, 10, 16, and 17 at 8pm, November 15 at 7:30 and November 11 and 18 at 3pm. Tickets are $20 (+ handling fee) for all performances except November 15. See the Off Broad Street Players website for further details.
Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by Beverly Beardsley
Musical Direction by Walter Webster
Choreography by John Stephan
November 9 – 18, 2012
Off Broad Street Players
at Levoy Theatre
126 – 130 N. High St.
Millville, NJ 08332