A review of "Annie"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On Friday, I took the girls to a production of Annie at Hamilton District Christian High school, which is a quick 5 minutes away from me. I've never written a review for something like this, but I thought I would give it a shot.

We arrived at about 11:40 for a 12noon matinee showing. We were directed at the front door by a student who was apparently part of the production, that they weren't quite ready for guests to come in. We sat out on the front patio for a few minutes before one of the girls indicated a need for the facilities, so we went in to get that task taken care of.

When we came out, I decided to head for the gymnasium as it was now between 10 and 5 to the hour. I was a little chagrined to come in and see about 75% of the seating already filled. This would put my little girls and I about 3-4 rows from the back which was a little disappointing. Fortunately we were facing a bonafide stage which was raised about 4 feet off the floor. Still, we ended up stacking their chairs so that they didn't need to perch uncomfortably for the entire production.

And it was fortunate that we did that, as the the production ran, with intermission, a full two and a half hours. Phew! My five year old barely made it.

I took note of a live orchestra/band off to stage right, but on the floor and prepared myself for the inevitable sounds of a high school band.

The production began only a minute after 12 with an exuberant introduction by a teacher (I assume) who was part of the direction of the musical (I assume). He told us his name, but I don't recall it.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you the cast, as there were no programs, and my online searches have not turned up any listings. They did have a 'Wall of Stars' outside the gym on a large bulletin board, but I didn't take the time to note any names. So I'll just be referring to the actors by character.

The musical began with a view of the room where the orphans live, plain metal beds lining the back wall of the set. The girls took their places and the lights were dim; they were obviously supposed to be sleeping. A slightly confusing moment occurring shortly after as Annie enters to calm the nightmares of little Molly, leaves the viewer wondering why Annie was up and roaming the house at 3am.
It appeared that each girl was outfitted with a head mic affixed along their cheeks, however the sound quality left something to be desired, quite muffled and fuzzy sounding (my technical words). I grew accustomed to this as the show progressed, so it wasn't a lasting annoyance.
The first vocal number arrived, with Annie consoling the young pigtailed Molly as she insisted that her parents would be returning for her, performing "Maybe".
While Annie's arrival on stage had been somewhat lackluster and void of definite function (was she the kind big sister? The tell-em-like-it-is hard nose? Not sure...) this young actress had most definitely been chosen for her singing voice. Pure and clear, with a strong sense of pitch (a necessity when accompanied by a high school band), her songs from beginning to end were strong. Her range from low to high was fairly consistent, her very highest notes slightly thin and less full bodied, but still quite adequate for the part. Her very pleasant voice nearly made up for her somewhat stiff appearance, her acting not quite reaching her eyes.

The rest of the orphan cast were average singers, with none standing out particularly during their one-liner opportunities. "It's a Hard Knock Life", usually a rousing, attitude laden number, was somewhat less saucy then hoped for. I would have to give the girls the benefit however, as the kind of belting, broadway type voice needed to give that song real oompf, is just not commonly found among teen girls. They did the best they could.

The shining, wise-cracking breath of fresh air arrived with Miss Hannagan. I would truly say that she was the star of the show. Full of vim and vigor, and just the right amount of sleaze, Miss Hannagan was all I hoped her to be. Young actors can often overdo the anger emotion, and Miss Hannagan came dangerously close as she arrived on the scene to scold the early rising girls, but she reigned it in and showed us some coy stylings that were a delight to watch.

A beautiful Golden Retriever made a quick appearance during Annie's runaway street scene...with the dog nearly running off with her. I suppose it was necessary to have a leash on the dog, although a simple leather or even rope lead would have been a little less distracting to the 30's style set than the bright blue extend-a-lead. While I applaud the director for incorporating a real dog into the cast, poor Annie had to adlib a stage right to left movement during the climax of the flagship song as Fido decided he needed to smell something particularly yummy, singing actress on the end of his leash or not. Annie graciously and easily finished out her song with a quick kneel to give the dog a squeeze (and warn it to behave, I'm sure!)

A poised and beautiful Miss Farrell arrives to introduce Annie to her future father. The assistant to Oliver Warbucks was well done, her cultured yet not arrogant character just the right blend of style and competence. As Annie catches her first glimpse of the Warbuck mansion, we meet the timeless Daddy Warbucks. Also well done, Warbucks is tall and striking, his strong baritone sometimes rushing his lines just a bit. The staff, including butler Drake are crisp in black and white, appropriately demure and helpful.

Hannagans brother "Rooster" and his dame are next to arrive on set. As sly and greasy as his dame is ditzy, their trio "Easy street" was arguably the weakest song of the production. Again, the kind of vamping required for this big band/New Orleans jazz number can hardly be expected from high school students. The incredibly high key of this, and other pieces throughout, also handicapped many of the singing actors. Miss Hannagan made an admirable stab at all her numbers, but it was apparent that her chest voice vastly out performed her head voice. I would imagine that little could have been done about this however, since the band provided live accompaniment and incidental music for the full 2.5 hours of the production. While the musical fare was as you'd expect for a high school band, I have to give them kudos for keeping it up for that length of time. (And a weekend of performances to follow...poor little chops!)

The sets were quite impressive. Two large panels on either side of a middle entrance doorway were expertly hinged to swivel from the centre, creating the two main sets of the orphan bedroom and the Warbuck mansion. A few stand alone panels were rolled out to add a street scene, the Oval Office, and the orphanage door from a street perspective. All were artistically rendered and scene changes were smooth, if not somewhat lengthy.

Overall, I would give the production three out of five stars. For a such a reasonable entrance fee (free!) I would head over to HDCH again. Especially if Miss Hannagan found her way out of New York!


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