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'Annie' is good and getting better
THEATRE, BY BOB ABELMAN
'Annie' is good and getting better
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Neighbors are stringing up their lights and artificial icicles with care. Towns have transformed into Currier & Ives lithographs, thanks to storefronts framed in seasonal greenery and windows tattooed with cotton-ball snowflakes. Community theater marquees boast of yuletide favorites to be performed throughout the holidays.
"Annie" has certainly become one of those favorites.
Although it will never be confused with great art, "Annie" certainly articulates the Christmas spirit. Nothing says the holidays like sugar-sweet optimism, candy-coated patriotism and a gumdrop of a message -- "the sun will come out tomorrow" -- set to hummable music sung by local cherubs and game community players.
The musical is based on the Depression-era comic strip about a redheaded ragamuffin, who, if she had a glass to call her own, would see it as half full. She is rescued from a New York City orphanage and its gin-swilling, ne're-do-well proprietor Miss Hannigan by the billionaire industrialist Oliver Warbucks. The adorable, 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.
A Broadway hit in the 1970s, "Annie" has been turned into a film and a Disney-produced made-for-TV movie, had a long-running national tour, enjoyed a recent New York revival and will be back on Broadway again sometime this decade.
At the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, "Annie" has been staged in 1983, 1991, 2001 and 2003, and its current incarnation, which opened last weekend, runs through Dec. 19.
As are the mid-November Christmas decorations, the CVLT's "Annie" is a tad premature in its offering. Evident in the show's preview performance, this production is still a work in progress.
Rather than being a fluid, organic and fun-filled piece of musical storytelling, this production is still at the awkward stage where everyone is thinking about what they are doing rather than merely doing it and doing it in synchrony.
The orphans -- so central to the spirit and energy of this play -- are a delightful corps of strangers marching to their own drum, rather than operating as a collective. They say their lines, sing their songs and execute Hannah Ziegler's functional choreography, but they are still speaking, singing and dancing, because the script tells them to rather than because their characters need to.
Under the direction of Diana Kullgren, the musicians sound as if they had just met and only one of them brought the sheet music. They are not yet offering the cast the support needed to really sell their songs and hit their high notes with confidence.
No spark yet exists between Warbucks, played by David Malinowski, and his secretary, Grace, played by Katherine Johnson. No affection is evident between Warbucks and Annie, played by Eve Regelbrugge. No slapstick danger lurks when Hannigan, played by Sandy Kosovich Peck, her brother Rooster, played by Don Knepper, and his girlfriend, Lilly, played by Katelyn Vogias, join forces.
But it will.
Director Brendan Sandham knows his way around a community theater and has the wherewithal to pull together all of this show's pieces and parts and deliver a memorable "Annie."
The small ensemble is already anchoring this production by keeping the energy level high and the set changes fluid and efficient. Members of the ensemble play multiple minor roles throughout the show and bring the same enthusiasm to each and every one of them. Especially impressive is Alexandria Marzullo.
The featured players, particularly Mr. Malinowski, as Warbucks, and Ms. Kosovich Peck, as Hannigan, are talented performers capable of brilliant performances. Flashes of what they bring to the table -- his endearing accessibility and her comic timing, for example -- are already in place, and one gets the sense that they are just a half-step away from hitting their stride and owning the stage.
Similarly, the adorable Ms. Regelbrugge has the prerequisite look, attitude and stage presence for the role of Annie and is a performance or two away from stealing the show.
As time passes and we get closer to Christmas, all the mid-November holiday decorations accessorizing our homes and businesses will seem more natural and better blend into their surroundings. So, too, will the CVLT production of "Annie."
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