Rarely has a hard-knock life made for more delightful family entertainment than the one led by a little orphan named Annie in the multiple Tony Award-winning musical bearing her name. Now, beating the projected Fall 2012 Broadway revival by several months, Glendale Centre Theatre stages its very own in-the-round rendition of the much-loved Broadway megahit (2377 performances from ‘77 to ‘83!).

 If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard Annie’s anthem “Tomorrow,” that person has surely been living under a rock, 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 eleven-year-old orphan 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.

Michael Sterling directs the Glendale Centre Theatre production with assurance and flair, Jerry Evans choreographs with pizzazz, and musical director Steven Applegate gets the cast of twenty-five vocalizing ever so melodically to song after song.

 Hometown girl Emma Howard plays Annie on the GCT stage, and with thirty some odd stage credits already under her belt, it’s hard to imagine a better, more talented, or more winning Annie than the petite dynamo. Winning hearts from the show opener “Maybe” and sealing the deal with a powerfully belted “Tomorrow,” Howard sets the tone for an overall excellent production featuring one delightful performance after another.

There can be no Annie without Daddy Warbucks, and Peter Hussman takes on the role with gusto, warmth, and charm. Dynell Leigh has a field day playing cranky, flask-toting orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, and never more so than in her show-stopping showcase “Little Girls.” (“Little cheeks, little teeth … Everything around me is little. If I wring little necks, surely I will get an acquittal!”) As Warbucks’ assistant Grace Farrell, Heather Dudenbostel lends her exquisite soprano to “I Think I’m Going To Like It Here” and “Annie.” The dynamic duo of Clayton Farris and Christa Hamilton steal scene after scene as dastardly and ditzy comedic baddies Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis (who impersonate Annie’s down-on-their-luck “parents” Ralph and Shirley Mudge). Last but not least among the major players are Annie’s six orphan chums, Asia Aragon (Pepper), Brooke Lynn Boyd (Kate), Bella Brisco (Duffy), Leah Schraff (Molly), Lucy Taylor (July), and Katherine Marie West (Tessie), each creating her own unique characterization without a hint of child actor cutesiness, and when joining Annie for “It’s The Hard Knock Life” the result is musical theater magic.

Among featured roles, Robert Glen Decker croons winningly as Burt Healy, serenading the audience in “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile,” Amy Lynn Thompson belts out a big, brash, and brassy “N.Y.C.” as Star-To-Be, and Shannon Cooper, Rebecca Thomas, and Thompson get their Andrews Sisters groove on as the three-part harmonizing Boylan Sisters. GCT regulars Kyle Kelley and Don Woodruff provide strong support as Warbucks friend Drake and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Completing the overall excellent ensemble are Laurie Fedor (Mrs. Pugh), Kevin Holmquist (Morganthau), Nick Mizrahi (Howe), Bridget Pugliese (Mrs. Greer/Perkins), Paul Reid, Robert Thomas (Lt. Ward), and pooch Copper as Sandy. Only Thomas needs additional coaching to come up to cast standards.

The production’s unbilled set design demonstrates a particular deftness at theater in-the-round scenic design, with scene changes executed quickly and nimbly by assorted cast members. Once again Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes have come up with an all-around terrific wardrobe of period outfits, this time with a comic book flair. Voices and prerecorded instrumental tracks are expertly mixed by sound technician Nathan J. Milisavljevich. Caitlin Barieri is stage manager.

Proving once again that nobody does L.A.-area theater-in-the-round with the consistent expertise and flair of Glendale Centre Theatre, Annie is sure to put dreams of musical theater stardom in the eyes of many of its young audience members. As for the older set, I’d like to see anyone out there try and resist the charms of that pintsized redhead with a voice as big as her heart.

Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
May 17, 2012
Photo: Nathan Milisavljevich and Deborah Dubin

Comments are closed.