By Angela Dell
Annie seems to be one of those popular musicals that are often done in community theater productions in Utah. Somehow, I have managed to live in Utah for ten years without having seen a production of it before. I was glad Draper Historic Theatre’s production was my first. Tonight was opening night and there was a completely full house. The audience was lively and responsive and you could feel nothing but support for the actors and designers and their obvious hard work.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Annie, based on the popular cartoon “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray, is about a hopeful, little orphan girl who finds a home with a rich man in New York City during the Christmas season and potentially beyond. It is a musical filled with love, hope, and, of course, the occasional selfish bad guy.
Sasha Valentina Southwick plays Annie in this production and brings a special charm to the stage. Her bright, fresh singing voice comes out strong despite the microphone she had taped to her cheek. After the show, I had a chance to speak with her mother who told me that Sasha had been sick for four days previous to the show and was worried about her voice. Despite her illness, she did a marvelous job. Her notes were spot on and her words came out clear and expressive. Her relationship with Daddy Warbucks (Brinton M. Wilkins) is sincere and sweet. Brinton Wilkins has impeccable comedic timing and adds some personal touches to his character that gives Daddy Warbucks a more relatable tone. He’s the rich father we’ve always dreamed of having. His stamina through all of the musical numbers is impressive and proves his talent as an actor. Opposite Wilkins is Laura Ebeling playing Miss Farrell with her sweet, cheerful singing voice. From the first moment when she walks into the orphanage, her bright smile and clean appearance make her look warm and lovely.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the “Easy Street” Trio: Jason Jensen as Rooster and Brooke Holladay as Lily St. Regis really nail those New Jersey accents that add a bit of coarseness and a bit of comedy to their characters. During Miss Hannigan’s (Randilee Warner) number “Little Girls” you immediately see Warner’s talent bleed through. Her voice is powerful and dramatic, just like her character. Her little quips and gripes are delivered hilariously giving her character a grouchy, pathetic, and, surprisingly relatable quality. As a mother to a little girl, I found it a little disturbing that this was the character I was relating to in the show.
The ensemble, both of adults and children, is impressive. The children handled their numbers so well and did a great job stepping up in other roles. When FDR (Brett Haymond) is with his cabinet, you expect him to be in a room filled with adults. What this production has decided to do is make a number of large Muppet-like puppets and have some of the children play the cabinet members as puppets. It was surprisingly poignant hearing children’s voices talking about creating new jobs and opportunities for people in order to build a brighter tomorrow for future generations. Haymond does a fabulous job making sure to engage with the puppets instead of the children while talking to his cabinet. He also looks remarkably like the New Deal president, which makes it doubly magical.
In my opinion the most impressive ensemble number of the night was “NYC”. The cast clearly worked really hard to get that much choreography memorized and it pays off. The choreographer (Heather Haycock) even manages to sneak in a tap number with three of the ensemble members (CoryEllen Nelson, Whitney Wilkins, Ray Middlesworth) and herself that is absolutely charming.
Costumer Mae Hinton-Godfrey had to create period outfits for over 60 people, sometimes with multiple costumes. If that doesn’t impress you, then I don’t know what will. With this many children and such a large ensemble, Director Marc Navez had his work cut out for him. It’s clear that Assistant Director Heather Oberlander and Haycock worked really hard to make sure everyone had a place onstage and that no one would be missed or get hurt. With as many scene changes as there are, Stage Managers Brayden Perry and Michelle Shuman undoubtedly work hard to make them as smooth and clean as possible. The set, designed by Navez, is elaborate and ambitious for the amount of room they have on the stage, but it works with all the levels added to it to accommodate the large ensemble.
Whether you’ve seen Annie a million times, or, like me, never before, this production promises to be a new and exciting experience that will have the songs stuck in your head until the wee hours of the morning.
Draper Historic Theatre presents Annie by Thomas Meehan
Draper Historic Theatre 12366 South 900 East Draper, Utah 84020
February 2-24, 2018 Monday, Friday, and Saturday 7:00 PM; Matinee February 17 2:00 PM
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