OGDEN — The Broadway musical Annie has been a favorite of little girls all across the world since its debut in 1977. There have been many remakes, movies, and countless productions of this classic. Add to that list the current production happening at the Ziegfeld Theater in Ogden, directed by Trent Cox.
The story (as told in Thomas Meehan‘s script) follows Annie, played by Elizabeth Kaschmitter, follows a little orphan girl, mistreated in the orphanage where she and the other girls are forced to work at the command of the evil Miss Hannigan, played masterfully by new Utah transplant Linda McKee. Billionaire Oliver Warbucks, played by Layne Wilden, with the help of his secretary Grace, played by Jessica Hollingsworth, give Annie the opportunity to see how the other half lives, while Annie has the opportunity to help Warbucks connect with his softer side.
In this production I was very impressed with the performances and chemistry between Kaschmitter as Annie and Wilden as Warbucks. Having been to many a production of Annie, one of the main downfalls is usually a child actor who may be trying a bit too hard to belt out the familiar songs from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin‘s score (like “Tomorrow”) and end up trying to sound more adult like and not fitting the character. Kaschmitter, however, had an excellent balance of tone and quality that did not seem to push or stretch beyond her age and vocal capability. In the songs the pair sing together, such as “NYC” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” they had a strong chemistry that helped me believe that a connection could be found between these very different characters. When adding in Hollingsworth as the organized but kind Grace, the three lead characters made an entertaining and enjoyable trio.
McKee, as Hannigan, has a difficult role in that people remember iconic performances from stage and movie and have certain expectations. While McKee did not have the strongest vocals I have heard in that role, she did develop a perfect characterization of a woman who was stuck taking care of orphans she despised and living a life she did not care to live. McKee has the capability of playing the type of villain that an audience loves to hate. Her iconic song, “Little Girls,” was met with strong applause and her comedic handling of the material continued throughout the show. When adding her brother, Rooster, played hilariously by Daniel Atkin, and his girlfriend, Lily, played by Sarah Walker, the three performed the song “Easy Street” with great humor and impressive choreography by Bryan Andrews.
In any production of Annie the collection of girls gathered to play the orphans is important, especially for the popular song “It’s a Hard Knock Life” (which my own two daughters like to sing any time I ask them to complete a chore). Of the orphans, I was particularly impressed with Annie Potter, who played Molly with a flair for comedy that I have rarely seen in a child so young. The other young ladies did a great job, especially, again with the choreography in “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”
The one negative I noticed in this production was in considering the chorus, the children did outshine the adults. Additionally, one of the traditional chorus songs, “We’d Like to Thank You,” was listed in the program, but not performed the evening I attended. Also, the song “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here,” was carried more by the performances of Annie and Grace, rather than the chorus as a collective.
Overall, this production represents a strong program for families to enjoy. I remember reading that the significance of shows like Annie lies in the fact that entire generations can enjoy the program together, and it seems that the Ziegfeld has taken that to heart. On the opening night I attended, there was a preshow carnival with cotton candy, face painting, and fun for the children in attendance. I find this to be an important thing to be included in a good theatre season. I look forward to some of the more artistic choices that the Ziegfeld has on slate for later in the season. However, as a mother trying to raise children to appreciate the importance of the arts, I am so glad that companies also see that audience need and do such a tremendous job of providing this type of selection in their season. The arts do matter, and it may become increasingly more important that we as a community of theatre lovers in Utah continue to showcase why they matter for all ages.