There’s an old adage in performance that you should never work with children or animals since they tend to steal the show. Reston Community Players do not shy away from this challenge with their excellent production of the musical “Annie,” now playing at the Reston Community Center through May 18th, 2019.
“Annie” is the story of a plucky, 11-year-old orphan who was left on the doorstep of the New York Municipal Orphanage by her parents as an infant in the 1920’s. However, they left her with half a locket and a note that said they would be back for her. She and the other orphans are at the mercy of the boozy and cantankerous Miss Hannigan (Jennifer Redford), who runs the orphanage. She becomes enraged with Annie’s frequent attempts to run-away. Then, Grace Farrell (Claire Jeffrey), personal secretary to billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Doug Marcks), comes to invite an orphan to spend Christmas in their household. After Annie is selected, she forms a special bond with Warbucks. When he offers to help Annie find her parents, complete with a $50,000 reward, Miss Hannigan’s shifty brother Rooster (Joshua Redford) and his floozy girlfriend Lily (Emily Jennings) team up with Miss Hannigan to pretend to be Annie’s parents and get the money. Will they fool Mr. Warbucks? Will Annie find her real parents?
This was a thoroughly enjoyable production of a musical classic, and should not be missed.
Perhaps one of the most recognized musicals of the 20th century, “Annie” was based on the “Little Orphan Annie” comic that debuted in 1924. This comic was first transformed into a radio show in the 1930s, then had film adaptations, in 1932 and 1938 respectively. The musical version debuted in 1977 and helped to launch the career of a young actress named Sarah Jessica Parker. There was later a 20th-anniversary revival on Broadway in 1997. The musical itself has had several film adaptations, in 1982 and 2014, and a made-for-TV Disney re-telling in 1999. These films have stared huge names like Victor Garber, Tim Curry, Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Bates, Bernadette Peters, Jaime Foxx, Cameron Diaz, and Carol Burnett.
The musical also got a revival back in 2012, where it received a revision by Thomas Meehan. This reviewer believes that book is the source material used for this production, as (since I’m an “Annie” super fan) there were a few changes I noticed. A few new jokes, some updates in references, etc.
Reston Community Players have opted to double cast the title role of “Annie,” since it is a demanding part and the run of their show is a long three weeks. Kylee Hope Geraci is taking the role for the May 10th, 11th (matinee), and both shows on May 18th, while Eva Jaber portrays Annie for May 3rd, 4th, 5th, the evening performance on May 11th, the 12th (matinee), and the 17th. The performance I attended featured Geraci, and this reviewer was incredibly impressed by her talent and poise. This musical has some truly iconic songs, and she performed them expertly. Her version of “Tomorrow” had spunk and her belt was fantastic. She led the other orphans in a rousing rendition of “Hard Knock Life,” and her emotional performance of “Maybe” tugged at the heartstrings.
The rest of the cast also delivered strong performances. Marcks was superb as “Daddy” Warbucks, both looking and singing the part. He particularly shines on “NYC,” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You.” The bond he shares with Geraci is charming and sweet. Jeffrey brings effervescent energy to Farrell, which adds to the developing familial bond between Warbucks and Annie. Jennifer Redford inspires belly laughs as Miss Hannigan; she has excellent comedic timing, and her vocals on “Little Girls” are both pitch perfect and perfect for the character. She, Joshua Redford, and Jennings also turn in a show highlight with the comedic yet menacing “Easy Street.” They are able to deliver funny performances, while still making their characters sinister enough to fear for Annie.
The orphans are all very accomplished in their roles, but a particular standout is the number “You’re Never Fully Dressed.” Each orphan gets to shine in their own particular way, though to this reviewer, Molly (Jane Keifer) was a standout. Though one of the youngest cast members, she had fantastic stage presence and delivered more than a few laughs. The ensemble was very strong, delivering wonderful vocals, and making unique characterizations even though each person played multiple roles. However, as you may have guessed from the opening quote of this review, the dog stole the show. Whimsy did an excellent job and was extremely well trained. He didn’t just do the basics, he had some truly delightful tricks up his furry sleeve.
The production was also served by some very effective technical contributions. The set was well constructed and utilized multiple tableaus to make the transitions between scenes quick and effective. A particular favorite was the curtain made of levels of line-drying laundry (Set Design: Matt Liptak.) The choreography was excellent, and was a perfect fit for the actors’ skill levels; it allowed them to shine but wasn’t overly simplistic or difficult (Choreography by Jolene Vettese.) Kathy Dunlap did a great job with costumes; period pieces aren’t always easy, but she did an expert job with a large cast which needed multiple costumes per person. Sue Pinkman deserves similar praise with hair and make-up since there were a lot of wigs in use and they all looked great. The full orchestra also brought wonderful richness to these classic songs, under the capable conduction of Sam Weich.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable production of a musical classic, and should not be missed. In today’s world, it’s a nice reminder that the sun will come out tomorrow, and the show’s optimism couldn’t be more relevant of a message. Visit Reston before this delightful show closes, because “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile!”
Running Time: Approximately 2 1/2 hours with one intermission.
Advisory: Some mild foul language.
“Annie” is playing now through May 18th, 2019 at Reston Community Center. For more information on tickets, please click here.