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Chagrin actress has Annie part down pat
Chagrin actress has Annie part down pat
By BOB ABELMAN
A year ago, the Times profiled the Welch family, Chagrin Falls residents with a passion for performing. The article offered a day in the life of aspiring actors Sam and Natalie, then 12 and 10 years old, respectively, as they were chauffeured from auditions to rehearsals by parents who spent more time in waiting rooms than an issue of Seventeen magazine and more hours on the road then a teamster.
The pace of the Welches' lifestyle has not lessened, but the effort has most certainly paid off. These days the family makes the 75-minute drive to Canton,and back again, so Natalie can play the title role of "Annie" at the Players Guild Theatre, on stage until June 13.
Natalie won the theater's "Do You Wanna Be Annie?" talent competition, held last March. The four-day, four-round audition-with-benefits (the winner receives the role, professional head shots, 12 one-hour vocal lessons at the Players Guild Theatre, a season subscription and more) hosted over 50 Annie wannabes between the ages of 7 and 13.
A Broadway hit in the 1970s and 1980s, "Annie" enjoyed a 1997 New York revival, has been turned into a film with a sequel and a Disney-produced made-for-TV movie and is on a seemingly perpetual national tour.
"Annie" tells the tale of an optimistic orphan, a redheaded ragamuffin growing up during the Great Depression. She is rescued from a New York City orphanage and its gin-swilling proprietor, Miss Hannigan, by the billionaire industrialist Oliver Warbucks. The charming, headstrong Annie leaves a trail of goodness in her wake, bringing hope and joy to those who cross her path and comeuppance to those who wish her or her fellow urchins harm.
Needless to say, "Annie" is a favorite among community theaters, which often operate under the assumption that a production of this show merely requires a parade of adorable little girls reciting the catchy songs, a handful of well-intended adults walking through the dialogue, cardboard sets and a dog to be successful.
Leapin' Lizards! Nothing could be further from the truth. Although this upbeat musical confection with lyrics by Martin Charmin and Sunday comics-inspired text by Thomas Meehan is candy-coated entertainment, it can be wonderful entertainment if infused with genuinely talented performers and the right attention to detail.
That is exactly what director Jonathan Tisevich delivers in this Players Guild Theatre production. This "Annie" embraces all that was big and broad in the Broadway revival production, which manifests itself in the staging, in the choreography and in every actor's musical performance.
In fact, singing and dancing skills appear to be paramount factors in Mr. Tisevich's casting decisions, for every one of the featured players is absolutely marvelous in this regard, and full musical accompaniment, directed by Steve Parsons, is given top priority. Unfortunately, authenticity and consistency are lacking in nearly every portrayal, seemingly sacrificed in order to emphasize the music in this musical and coordinate the onstage activities of a whopping 32 cast members.
Natalie Welch is the definitive Annie. She is flat-out adorable and belts her songs with a confidence and quality rarely found on the community stage. Her rendition of "Tomorrow" rivals anything heard on the Broadway stage. The huge contingent of orphans -- 12 in all -- are high energy and endearing, with Morgan Brown, as Pepper, and Haley Evans, as Molly, nearly stealing their scenes. Each orphan effortlessly manages all of Michael Lawrence Akers' clever choreography and lights up the stage.
The show's trio of evil-doers -- Miss Hannigan, Rooster and Lily, played by Melissa Brobeck, Jason Green and Elyssa Bosco -- have mastered their musical numbers. "Easy Street," sung by all three, is delightful, and Ms. Brobeck shows off her significant singing chops in the dark ode to orphans, "Little Girls."
Christopher Gales bears all the bravado of hard-headed but soft-hearted Oliver Warbucks and is a pleasure to listen to. So good is his singing that an often-omitted Warbucks solo, "Why Should I Change a Thing," is a welcome addition. Amanda Medley offers a truly well-rounded performance as Warbucks' demure secretary, Grace Farrell. She is authentic, immediately accessible and sings beautifully.
Mr. Tisevich's creative vision is shared by scenic designer Joshua Erichsen, who drapes the rear of the large stage with canvas pieces that depict colorful, projected images of the streets of New York City, the Warbucks mansion and the orphanage, when called for. Scene changes take an eternity, but they are worth waiting for.
This rendition of "Annie" is brimming with talent and is a spectacular presentation. The trek to Canton is worthwhile. Tickets range from $22 to $17 and may be purchased by calling (330) 453-7617.
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