PCA's 'Annie' sure to tug at heartstrings
"Annie," the story of the lovable waif who has touched the hearts of millions for decades, wraps in one package what theater-goers can expect in the upcoming season of Prescott Center for the Arts main stage productions - humor, pathos, exquisite choreography, vibrant music, lines delivered flawlessly, expert stage design and talent across the spectrum of ages.
Directed by PCA executive director Jon Meyer, "Annie" opens Friday at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center, with 11-year-old veteran actor Carly Fonda who, as Annie, has the strong backup of lead characters Dina Mountcastle as mean orphanage matron Miss Hannigan; Christopher Eubank as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks; Timothy Keena as sleezy Rooster; Melody Starzell as Warbuck's secretary Grace Farrell; Summer Allen as Rooster's zany girlfriend Lilly St. Regis; a host of incredibly talented youngsters who are Annie's orphanage companions; and many other actors whose roles enrich the lively production.
"Annie," as most everyone knows, is the Broadway musical created from the Howard Gray comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" that originally opened on the New York stage in 1977. Set in the Great Depression in 1933, "Annie" had been abandoned on the steps of the Municipal Girls Orphanage by her parents who left a note with her, saying they would return to pick her up. Alas, that was never to be, and Annie is among the captives living in bondage with Miss Hannigan, who unabashedly imbibes. No nurturing - physically or emotionally - can these little girls expect from this wretched woman.
Mountcastle, a gentle, caring person in real life, said "it was a gift to play" Miss Hannigan. "She is so well written, so beautifully written." Mountcastle said she has been singing songs from "Annie" since she was 6 years old and that she found it difficult to be angry with character Annie in the play. "Jon pushed me as an actress to get in her face and show anger to her," Mountcastle said, adding the two characters are "polar opposites." Miss Hannigan hates Annie because she is everything she is not - Annie represents "optimism and all that is good."
Eubank's characterization of Daddy Warbucks convinces the audience that he is a kind, generous man - and hardly pompous, despite his wealth as an industrialist and Wall Street magnate. He shows instant affection for Annie, when she wins the opportunity to spend Christmas in his mansion - but he doesn't hesitate to throw his weight around high places, all the way to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Herb Voss) when he wants help finding Annie's parents.
"This was tough," Eubank said of his role as Daddy Warbucks. "I'm used to playing goofy characters. "It's tough to be a businessman. I've never played such a serious character."
Each and every orphan, from the youngest to the oldest, held her own portraying plight, yet they all perform a terrific job of doing what they do best - being kids. They are little imps at times but, at the same time, they belt out the play's melodies as if they were professional songsters.
Maybe it's because Carly has been watching the movie, "Annie," since she was a tyke that she comes so naturally to the part.
"I've memorized every song," she said. "I guess I was used to it (the music)."
Her challenge, she said, was imparting an Annie who's "innocent and not very street smart. I had to learn how to be excited about simple things."
"She constantly leaves me speechless," Matt Montgomery said of his daughter, Carly. "She's had no (acting) classes. It's all natural."
Miss Hannigan's brother, "Rooster" and his girlfriend, "Lilly" plan a grand scheme to pose as Annie's parents and collect a bounty that Warbucks offers. Lilly comes off as the classic airhead, and Rooster is "without a doubt" Keena's "favorite role." "It's so exuberant, so exciting, so different and such a sleeze-ball character," he said.
Costumer Gloria Januko outfitted each cast member in clothing with a genuine 1930's look, and set designer Ered Matthew created clever scenery that defies a low budget, allowing the audience to move from the dull orphanage setting to the elegance of Warbuck's drawing room - all set against a New York City skyline.
Laura Taylor skillfully arranged the soundtrack so that musical director MaryAnn Dutton could deftly conduct the music, so much so that audiences are going to believe there is an orchestra in the pit. Dancers, no matter the age, step nimbly through 12 routines choreographed by Pamela Henry-Walker.
Because "Annie" takes place during the Great Depression, adults will enjoy the political overtones, such as the homeless singing, "We'd like to thank you, Herbert Hoover. You made us what we are today." Of course, this tune joins "Annie" classics "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard-Knock Life."
Sandy, Annie's dog, plays a special role, thanks to Lindsey Andreasky who has a special talent with dogs - and acting, as well.
"Annie" plays this Friday and Saturday and Sept. 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees this Saturday and Sept. 22. Tickets for evening performances range from $15 to $52 and from $13 to $38 for afternoon performances. Even though the production is on the Yavapai College stage, tickets are available at the PCA box office by calling 928-445-3286 or visiting www.pca-az.net.