Broadway’s original Annie is back—thirty-three years after the show’s opening night—in the multiple Tony Award-winning musical’s latest revival, exciting news indeed for those who recall Andrea McCardle’s Tony-nominated star turn in the title role. McCardle has graduated terrifically to the role of Miss Hannigan, originated in 1977 by Dorothy Loudon—who beat the pint-sized thirteen-year old for the Best Leading Actress Tony. How’s that for Broadway trivia…and an L.A. musical theater event!

McCardle steps into the sensible shoes of the cranky, flask-toting orphanage matron in Musical Theatre West’s all-around smashing revival of the much-loved Broadway megahit (2377 performances from ‘77 to ‘83!) The Long Beach production stars sensational twelve-year-old Broadway vet Melody Hollis in the role McCardle created, and features some of L.A.’s best musical theater stars in supporting roles, all of the above directed with savvy and flair by MTG Artistic Director Steven Glaudini.

If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard Annie’s anthem “Tomorrow,” that person has surely been living under a rock (and isn’t reading this review), thereby demonstrating just how deeply Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin’s musical has permeated our national consciousness. There’s scarcely a soul who doesn’t know about the “Hard Knock Life” of Miss Hannigan’s orphan girls, or of the Little Orphan named Annie who got invited to spend a two-week Christmas holiday in the home of millionaire—no, make that billionaire Oliver Warbucks—and won the shiny-pated bachelor’s paternal heart in the process.

As Annie, the utterly winning Hollis is perky, spunky perfection, and to quote from what the elderly lady sitting behind me blurted out full-blast during Hollis’s “Tomorrow,” the preteen has “a voice and a half.” No less can be said about McCardle, sinking her teeth into the meaty Miss Hannigan, chewing scenery right and left, and making the hilariously villainous orphanage matron very much her own. McCardle may still be petite of stature, but boy does she still have killer pipes, which she shows off in Miss Hannigan’s lament “Little Girls.” (“Little cheeks, little teeth … Everything around me is little. If I wring little necks, surely I will get an acquittal!”)

If ever there was a show jam-packed with scene-stealing supporting roles, it’s Annie, beginning with Jeff Austin’s warm and wonderful, bigger than life (and golden voiced) Daddy Warbucks. Shannon Warne is, as always, a dream of a romantic leading lady in the role of Grace Farrell, showing off those glorious pipes in “I Think I’m Going To Like It Here” and “Annie.” Michael Paternostro and Bets Malone get the plum roles of comedic baddies Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis (who impersonate Annie’s down-on-their-luck “parents” Ralph and Shirley Mudge), and both are at their best, Paternostro a hilarious no-goodnik and Malone a deliciously dumb delight. Mark Capri is so good as Franklin Delano Roosevelt that one can’t help wishing he were playing the role at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Then there are the six orphan girls, and what a multi-talented, highly experienced bunch of petite charmers they are—Jenna Rosen (Duffy), Paige Befeler (July), Alexa Freeman (Pepper), Maddison Milledge (Tessie), Danielle Soibelman (Kate), and Grace Kaufman (Molly).


As for the adult ensemble, when you’ve got StageSceneLA’s current Musical Theater Star Of The Year Damon Kirsche in the role of Burt Healy (serenading the audience with his velvet vocals in “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile”), Cabrillo Music Theatre’s recent Cinderella Melissa Mitchell belting out “N.Y.C.” as Star-To-Be, and the always terrific Todd Nielsen as butler Drake (duetting “Annie” with Warne), you know you’ve got one stellar bunch of featured players.

Completing the couldn’t-be-better cast are Jef Canter (Lt. Ward, Henry Morgenthau), Amberly Chamberlain (Mrs. Greer, Francis Perkins), Sean Clifford (Fred McCracken, Louis Howe), Amy Gillette (Annette, Ronnie Boylan), Brian Mitchell Hoffman (Bundles, Harold Ickes), Nick Lorenzini (Jimmy Johnson, Honor Guard), Jennifer Stratan (Sophie The Kettle, Mrs. Pugh), and canine actor Mikey in the role of Sandy. (Kirsche also plays Cordell Hull and Mitchell is also Connie Boylan of the Boylan Sisters.)

Roger Castellano does his usual fabulous job choreographing Annie’s production numbers including “It’s The Hard Knock Life,” “N.Y.C.,” and the show-stopping “Easy Street,” show-stoppingly performed by McCardle, Paternostro, and Malone. Musical director extraordinaire Daniel Thomas conducts the Broadway-caliber MTG orchestra.

Jean-Yves Tessier lights the stage with his accustomed expertise, and sound designer Julie Ferrin makes orchestra and vocalists sound great together. Yolanda Rowell has coordinated the production’s many costumes (designed for Music Theatre Of Wichita by Cathleen Edwards). Sets are the designs of Kenneth Foy for Pittsburgh CLO’s Theater Of The Stars, and they are excellent, if somewhat dwarfed by the Carpenter Center’s enormous proscenium. (If only so much of the action didn’t have to be staged so far back upstage.) Completing the excellent MTG design package are Cliff Senior (wig design) and Melanie Cavaness and Gretchen Morales (properties). Kevin Clowes is technical director, William Berloni trained the loveable Mikey, Vernon Willett is stage manager, and Mary Ritenhour is assistant stage manager.

It’s been twenty years since Musical Theatre West last staged Annie, and over three decades since the orphan charmer made her Broadway debut, but as this bang-up revival proves, Annie is as much a crowd-pleaser as ever. In fact, she still hasn’t aged a day!

Musical Theatre West, Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.
–Steven Stanley
October 31, 2010
Photos: Ken Jacques

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