|Nina Takahashi and Jordan Morris with ensemble|
By Tina Arth
Annie – most theatergoers either love it or hate it, and judging by local response, Beaverton Civic Theatre fans definitely trend toward the “love it” side. Initial response to ticket sales for BCT’s 2017 holiday show was so strong that they added two extra performances, which also sold out before opening night. My attitude toward Annie is mixed – sort of love/angst. I will never tire of this heartwarming tale of love lost, found, lost, then found again, yet parts of the show invariably make me sad. Thus I watched opening night of Beaverton Civic Theatre’s holiday production of Annie fully dressed with a smile, yet simultaneously fighting back twinges of melancholy. Luckily, the gleeful Annie/Warbucks chemistry at the end of the show (just look at that picture!) won the day, and I can honestly say that I really enjoyed BCT’s take on the story. Director Melissa Riley has found countless ways to squeeze her 48-person cast (plus one large dog) into the limited space available in the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, and the resulting show delivers a full musical theater experience for her audience.
For that theoretical reader who isn’t familiar with Meehan, Strouse and Charnin’s 1976 musical based on Harold Gray’s original comic, “Little Orphan Annie,” the story goes like this: Annie was abandoned as an infant at a New York City orphanage. Eleven years later, at the height of the Great Depression, she still optimistically waits for her parents to return as promised. The orphanage matron, Miss Hannigan, despises little girls, Annie most of all. When billionaire Oliver Warbucks wants an orphan to visit his mansion during the Christmas holidays, he sends his assistant to fetch one – and she picks Annie. While Warbucks is initially put off (he assumed that orphans were boys) he quickly bonds with the feisty little girl, and wants to adopt her. However, Annie has different plans – she wants to find her parents, and Warbucks agrees to put all of his financial and political muscle into locating the missing couple. He also offers a $50,000 reward to Annie’s parents – which fails to bring out Annie’s parents, but does bring out hundreds of liars, including Miss Hannigan’s con-man brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily. Disguised as Ralph and Shirley Mudge, the crooked couple provides “proof” (gained from Miss Hannigan) that Annie is theirs. Of course, several songs later the sad truth is revealed, the evil plot foiled, and everything works out just fine.
Nina Takahashi plays Annie as a diehard optimist with spunk to spare, with none of the whiny, manipulative side sometimes seen in the role. She sings, dances, and acts like the pro that she is, and her outlook sets the tone for the whole show. Once I got past the sense that I was watching a young Patrick Stewart, I also really enjoyed Jordan Morris’s approach to Daddy Warbucks – not so much a cartoon as a real human, able to openly display the vulnerability that Annie hides so well. His rendition of the often-omitted “Why Should I Change A Thing” really establishes the depth of his character.
The always-amazing Erin Zelazny gives her all to Miss Hannigan, blending her character’s fundamental sadism with just a touch of pathos and nailing the iconic “Little Girls.” Zelazny also picks up on a critical moment often misplayed, her timing perfect when she calls Lily St. Regis a “dumb ho…tel.” Speaking of hotels, Kelli Bee is an utterly captivating Lily, and even when she’s stuck in the background she’s never upstaged. Richard Cohn-Lee is fun as the evil Rooster, although he never quite reaches the level of malice I expect in a wanna-be child murderer.
There are lots of other solid performances – too many to mention – but I cannot overlook Kathrynn Gerard’s flawless singing, dancing “Star-to-Be.” This is a role often delegated to a solid, but second-rate performer, and Gerard brings the kind of star quality that makes me think she’ll be in a lead role when next I see her. Sherman’s “Sandy” is also destined for stardom, but first he needs to master the art of ignoring the treats he knows are coming!
The show is long, and I am grateful for Alex Woodard’s impressive single set design that virtually eliminates set changes. Switching from orphanage to Hooverville to mansion to radio station is all accomplished by changing the lighting, but perhaps calls a little too much on audience imagination – a few video projections to provide an appropriate backdrop would have been helpful.
There’s no point in exhorting you to buy tickets to a long sold-out run, so if you haven’t got seats yet all I can suggest is that you buy early for the next BCT show!
Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of A Little Princess runs through Sunday, December 17th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.