ALPINE — Annie, as we all know, is the endearing story of an extraordinarily optimistic red-headed orphan who smiles her way into a rich man’s heart. Together, the lonely billionaire and the lonely girl discover what it is to be family. It is a charming, albeit campy, little show, and it’s easy to see why family-oriented Alpine Community Theater picked it for its summer headliner. The small-town theater company boasts the tagline “Where everyone can get into the ACT!” With a cast of 160 (give or take a few orphans), their latest production of Annie seems to embody that community mindset.
But the inclusion of such an enormous number of actors is a perilous thing; while ACT is to be commended for providing so many theatrical opportunities, the sheer volume of the cast accounts for many of the production’s faults. To accommodate 160 people, a set has to be pretty large. Derek Mecham’s mammoth seven-location set filled the stage nicely, but had to be rearranged to fit into the tiny wings of Timberline Middle School between each scene. I timed it, and some of the changes took upwards of two minutes. These killer scene changes never failed to take me out of the story and destroy any momentum the actors worked so hard to build.
Another misstep attributed to too many cast members was the “N.Y.C.” number. With what felt like the entire company onstage, I couldn’t see what was going on, I didn’t know who was singing, and I missed any kind of connection between Warbucks (Rob Chatwin), Annie (Ashlyn Patterson), and Grace (Brittney Warburton). The song that was meant to establish a relationship between these three people became a muddled, glittery mess.
The majority of the other issues I had with this production come down to a lack of direction. With so many cast members, I can see how director/producer Laura Snyder would not have the time to pay each scene the full attention it deserves. For example, Alyse Shattuck was a mostly hilarious Miss Hannigan. Shattuck’s instincts were good, and some of the funniest moments in the show came from her, but she could have used some directorial polishing. The most glaring slip-up in her direction was the unfortunate decision to include orphans in the iconic song, “Little Girls.” This led to an awkward half-in-scene, half-direct-address split that made me dizzy. Without strong direction, Chatwin in “Why Should I Change a Thing?” and “Something Was Missing,” and Patterson in “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” paced the stage needlessly. The radio show, the first scene in the second act, felt long and unfocused. “I Don’t Need Anything But You” suffered a similar fate to that of “N.Y.C.,” only its disorder negatively effected a crucial point in the story. All of this diminished the power of the actors and lessened the impact of the show, which ended up feeling anticlimactic.
Despite its shortcomings, there were many engaging moments when the musical’s inherent charm shone clearly through, the most notable being any time the orphans were on stage. The little girls were so uninhibited, and they seemed to be having the time of their lives. “Hard Knock Life” was one of the highlights of the show, and “Fully Dressed Reprise” was adorable. Those girls performed the choreography with such infectious enthusiasm that I couldn’t help smiling. The vocals were outstanding for such young cast members (music direction by Laurel Brown). I found myself wishing the orphans would be on stage more often.
As a side note, I wish I could acknowledge the choreographer, but the program only listed nine possible choreographers and assistants without any guide as to who had a hand in which song. It’s a shame, because I would like to give credit where credit is due. Some of the dance numbers were very engaging and I was impressed by the efforts of the creative team to get such a large cast to execute the choreography.
Patterson played a delightful Annie. There were times when she was so natural and likable (bouncing on a living room chair when Daddy Warbucks wasn’t looking, snuggling with Sandy, and encouraging the members of President Roosevelt’s entourage, among other things), it was obvious why Grace and Warbucks decided to keep the little girl. Miss Hannigan, Rooster (Brenton Ferrell), and Lily (Amy Hafen) had great chemistry; “Easy Street” was an excellent number, alive with a sense of real connection between the characters. And each of the three crooks delivered solid, believable performances throughout the show. The ensemble did a wonderful job in “Hooverville,” which was surprisingly one of the most successful songs of the night. In this number, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the masses, the vocals were great, and everyone seemed committed to the scene.
To its credit, this production does have many positive aspects. Regrettably, the fantastic performances were totally swallowed up in the enormity of the project. As a result, Annie is just okay.