KAYSVILLE — As a young redheaded girl I always wanted to portray Annie. As an adult, Ms. Hannigan has replaced Annie as my dream role thanks to Carol Burnett. Although I love the 1982 film version of Annie, I’d never seen a live production of the script. Annie is a Broadway musical based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan. It is a rare script with multiple roles for young girls. The Hopebox Theatre’s production, with double cast principle characters, involves 40 different performers and is directed by Carol Madsen. I was excited to have a chance to finally see this production on stage.
Halle Heywood played Annie and was a solid choice for the role. Heywood had a strong stage presence, a great voice, and she made Annie feel like a natural leader among the girls in the orphanage. From the moment Heywood started the show off by singing, “Maybe,” I knew she had been well cast.
The entire cast of orphan girls did a fantastic job at capturing my attention and heart during Annie’s, “Maybe,” and their performance of “Hard Knock Life.” I especially loved Duffy’s (played by Pippa Parry) eye roll and crossed eyed reaction to Molly’s request to hear the letter Annie’s parents left with Annie as a baby. During, “Hard Knock Life,” the girls belted out their frustration and hit the stage with forceful energy as they scrubbed and danced. Even the youngest girls did well with the fun choreography by Kimi Christensen. Of course, there were little moments of girls going the wrong way or being off count, but with performers this young I expected and delighted in it. These young ladies are all going to be strong performers in the future; they already are.
The girl who really shined in this production was Molly, played by Karissa Wootton. She was adorable and had her part down so incredibly well. Although one of the youngest and smallest performers, she had one of the largest presences. Whether she was facing down Ms. Hannigan or dancing in imitation of Lily during, “Easy Street,” I couldn’t get enough of her sass.
Daddy Warbucks, played by Justin Lee, was a strong, shrewd business man, but he definitely had a softer side. The Daddy Warbucks role can easily be played as too brusque, but Lee did well at balancing the stern side with the fun side. It was easy to see why Annie loves him. The only scene I struggled with was during, “Something Was Missing.” Annie’s reactions during this scene felt cheesy and forced. It wasn’t until I thought about it on the way home that I finally pinpointed the problem. Annie breaks the fourth wall, on purpose, but she doesn’t do that anywhere else. Annie’s reacting to what Warbucks is singing about, but she does it melodramatically and away from him. She has similar reactions in, “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” but it is directed towards the servants. Also, during this scene Lee’s voice cracked on an upper note causing him to break character and pull a funny face with his tongue stuck out. It was the only time he had a note problem, and I wished he hadn’t drawn extra attention to the moment.
Ms. Hannigan, played by Amy Turner, was one of my favorite characters. I loved how the moment she walked on stage, in her silk robe, fuzzy slippers, and smeared makeup, Ms. Hannigan was someone to laugh at and mock, but only push so far. Turner’s performance of, “Little Girls,” was everything I had hoped it would be. Turner’s voice was strong, gravely at the right moments, and her acting believable. In spite of Ms. Hannigan’s apparent dislike for Annie, Ms. Hannigan still seemed upset when her brother suggested that he can make Annie disappear after fooling Mr. Warbanks. The moment was redeeming for Ms. Hannigan. It was clear that Turner definitely had experiences in her own life that allowed her to relate and that she could draw on in her performance as Ms. Hannigan. I was not surprised after the show when I learned that she is a teacher.
Rooster, played by Mark Parnell, was a real grease ball. I’d trust Rooster about as much as I’d trust the stereotypical used car salesman. Add Lily, played by Jessica Andrus, to the mix and I couldn’t wait for their scheming ways and plans to be outed. Lily was a bit obnoxious, with a shrill Jersey dialect, and a complete ditz. I wish she had seemed a little more like a schemer and not just an airhead. Her constant primping and adjusting of herself would have been overboard, if not for the humor of Molly imitating her. I felt Andrus did a decent job in the role, but that the directing could have allowed for some depth to her character.
I loved the set design by Erica Choffel and its inclusion of panels from the Little Orphan Annie comic strip by Harold Gray. Large comic panels made up the colorful background of the small black box theatre. Additional panels painted on the floor added more color to the small stage. Most scenes were created by simple set pieces and props, but the comic panels helped tie all the scenes together. I also loved that the costume designs by Christiane Telford also reflected the comic panels on the set. I specifically noticed the cleverness of the coordinating designs when Ms. Hannigan appeared in her main green dress. Another early touch tying the different formats in which Little Orphan Annie appeared was the sound design by Jake Wood. The opening theatre business announcements were presented as an old time radio show. I loved how all of these designs helped bring Annie full circle.
I had high hopes for this production, and it far exceeded those hopes. If I could, I’d go back and see it again and bring my whole family. It is great quality theatre at an affordable price. There are a couple of musical numbers that aren’t included in the film version as well as a Christmas theme that is also missing from the film. Make a fun new holiday memory and catch this production of Annie at the Hopebox Theatre!