Review by Kelly MacBlane; photo by Carolina Menapace.
It is hard not to love the Broadway classic Annie. From its memorable and catchy tunes to its at times cheesy and overly-optimistic story, Annie has been charming audiences since its Broadway debut in 1977. Despite the small space, Citadel Theatre’s production of Annie delivered on all of the charm and smiles one would expect from this classic. I honestly think that Citadel’s production of Annie may have been the first time I have seen the full-length stage version of this show but as a musical loving child of the ’80s, I was very familiar with the story and the songs thanks to the 1982 film version. So I was a little unsure of how the story would translate onto the stage but was very pleased with the outcome.
The show opens in Miss Hannigan’s orphanage for girls and Eric Luchen’s dreary, worn down setting and Patty Halajian’s drab orphan costumes set the scene for the downtrodden times of the Great Depression Annie is set in. But instantly, what makes this show so enjoyable brightens up the stage as we are introduced to the orphans. There are two sets of orphans due to the young age of the actors which ranged from about age 7-12 and at our performance, we saw the “B” cast which included Emiko Chichester, Cate Gordon, Sophia Smith, Sammy Menapace, Nora Hubert, and the adorable Lila Bahng as little Molly. How can one be depressed when even these downtrodden orphans, under the spiteful care of Miss Hannigan played by Citadel founder Ellen Phelps, can smile, laugh, sing and play away the sadness. And of course, there is Annie herself, played by Sophie Kaegi at the performance we saw. At first, Kaegi’s Annie seems more of a brat then loveable optimist but as the show goes on, it’s impossible not to fall in love with her as she lifts the spirits of those in the story and the audience as well.
Though Annie is keeping the faith that her parents, who dropped her at the orphanage as a baby with a promise of returning for her later, will one day return, she gladly takes up Grace Farrell’s offer to spend a few weeks around Christmas with New York’s (and maybe America’s) richest man, Oliver Warbucks. I enjoyed the sophistication of Chamaya Moody’s Farrell and the gruff exterior but soft interior of Oliver Warbucks, played by John B. Boss. At first, Warbucks is unsure of how to interact with the young Annie, but soon he develops a fatherly love for her. In this respect, the stage version moves faster than the movie version I remember so fondly, so the relationship between Warbucks and Annie seems to grow into father/daughter love rather quickly. There are other differences from the movie, which was my baseline for critiquing the show. For example, I don’t remember as much about the scene with Franklin Roosevelt, played by Bill Chamberlain, and while the singing and acting are great in these scenes in the Citadel production, they slow the momentum of the show down, to no fault necessarily of the production but perhaps more of the writing. However, Annie is filled with so many catchy and memorable songs that momentum is easily picked back up as Annie starts singing once again.
Despite the growing affection between Annie and Warbucks, Annie still desperately wants to find her parents. Luckily, Warbucks has all the money and connections in the world and he uses these to help Annie. Enter some of my favorite characters of the show, Rooster Hannigan, played by Kyle Ryan, and Lily St. Regis, played by Becca Duff. This scheming pair of criminals, with the help of Miss Hannigan, decides to scam Warbucks and Annie in order to get the reward money. Ryan, Duff and Phelps’ Easy Street is one of the standout numbers of the show, and the chemistry among the three actors is perfect.
This was the third performance I’ve attended at the Citadel Theatre but the first time I have seen a musical in that space. Going into the show, I was wondering how they could pull off such a large production in such a small space, and at times I was amazed and others, let down. First, it is incredible what Luchen is able to do with such a small space to be able to take us from the orphanage to the streets of New York, to Warbucks’ mansion and even to the White House using forced perspective and pieces that slide on and off to change the places we are seeing. However, because it’s such an intimate setting, and the audience is practically on the stage, some of the grandeur of the opulent locations is lost because we are so close and it is easy to see the ruggedness of some aspects of the set. The same can be said of Jake Ganzer’s choreography, which is enjoyable but, with the small space (especially with an ensemble of 11 and other leads all trying to dance to the big production numbers) rather limited.
Overall, I enjoyed Annie quite a bit because again, what is there not to love? I could easily overlook some of the things my critic’s eye noticed because I was too busy smiling and trying hard not to sing along. Always a classic, Annie is a great, optimistic show for the holidays!
Annie is now playing at the Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest, through January 5th. Performance times vary; check the website at Citadel Theatre. Find more information about current plays on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.