Monday, July 28, 2014
Christmas in July: The Brandywiners present AnnieI've only recently begun introducing my 8 year old son and 6 year old daughter to live theatre (mostly because I wasn't sure I could keep them quiet and still through an entire show). It really started this past spring, when their school did a production of Annie Jr. So when they found out that I would be reviewing the full version of Annie, they practically begged to come along. It's a testament to both the staying power of Annie itself and the Brandywiners' production of it that I really had no reason for concern at all. From the opening scene to the closing number, they were hooked. But don't fear that this is a kids show - there's plenty in Annie for people of all ages to enjoy!
It's a familiar enough story at this point - an 11 year old orphan holds eternal hope that the parents who abandoned her with little more than half a locket and a note saying they would return for her will reunite with her any day. Even while living under the thumb of the horrible head of the orphanage, escaping and living on the street for a bit, then getting caught and returned to the orphanage, Annie's optimism never waivers. There are always better days just ahead for her - you just have to believe.
Of course, for the show to work, you need to find a young girl who can portray that kind of wide-eyed optimism. Fortunately Jocelyn Ann Wolfe is more than up to the task. With her strong voice and sweet face, Wolfe carries the show well. Whether she's fighting back against the mother of the orphanage, Miss Hannigan, learning to love her adoptive father, Oliver Warbucks, or sharing some of her trademark enthusiasm with President Franklin Roosevelt, Wolfe more than holds her own against a very strong adult cast while still working well with the other children and orphans.
As for those adults, you'll notice stand-out performances from much of the cast. Pat Sutton easily transitions from the all-business Mr. Warbucks to the melted-heart Daddy Warbucks, eager to do whatever he can to bring happiness and joy to Annie. Suzanne Stein is lovely as Grace Farrell, Warbucks' assistant. While very business-centric, Farrell is also interested in Warbucks as a person, trying to bring out his more nurturing side as he deals with Annie. Farrell is likely the only person who can say "No" to Warbucks, and it's truly a treat to watch Sutton and Stein develop their relationship as they slowly move from boss and assistant to perhaps love interests. Other highlights include the threesome of Miss Hannigan, Rooster and Lily St. Regis, the villains of the show, played by Theodora K. Psitos, Darrin Peters and Madline Raube, respectively. They're so good at being bad, you can't help but enjoy watching their fall. Psitos in particular does an impressive job of bringing a small touch of humanity to a despicable character. At times, you almost feel sorry for her and her lot in life. But then she brings the evil back in full gear, making her eventual defeat all the more satisfying.
And that's just the main characters! With a full cast that numbers in the sixties, it would be easy to lose focus and have a train wreck of movement when the entire company is on stage. But Sheing and choreographer Angela Bates Majewski make good use of the space, balancing their featured actors, kick lines, and the hustle and bustle of city streets. Add in Catherine C. Soukup's tight orchestra, and you have an immersive production that lets you feel the chill of a New York City Christmas despite the warmth of a July evening.
After the show, I asked my kids what their favorite part was. They both simultaneously announced, "The dogs!" Ok, maybe that isn't exactly what The Brandywiners were going for. But they did connect with the Delaware Humane Association to try to find homes for a few pups, so that may have worked out after all! But back to the point, I then asked the kids if they enjoyed the show. They both gave a very enthusiastic "Yes!" In fact, their only real complaint was that they had a hard time seeing over the people sitting in front of them (a bit of advice: if you're bringing kids and you own some form of booster seats, bring them with you!). But even with visibility issues for those of shorter stature, The Brandywiners managed to capture and hold the attention of my 8 year old son who generally isn't interested in anything that isn't a video game. That in itself is reason to believe that Annie's eternal optimism is something to believe in... and made me enjoy the show even more than I already had.
The Brandywiners' production of Annie continues at Longwood Gardens' Open Air Theatre through August 2nd. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.brandywiners.org .
Posted at 10:37am on July 28, 2014 by Jason Thomas
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