Review of a Dazzling “Annie” by Prana
Little Orphan Annie burst on the scene as a comic strip in 1924 in the NY Daily News. Once the Depression came, Annie represented a pipe dream: an orphan girl rescued and then adopted by the improbably named Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. The comic strip gave hope to those struggling to put food on the table for their families, just as did the musical 42nd Street with its fantasy song, “We’re in the Money.” An instant success as reimagined in the musical “Annie” on Broadway in 1977, it won Tony awards both for best musical and best musical score. Then it was made into no less than three movies: in 1982, 1999 and again in 2014. Its appeal lies in its bubbly optimism, happy Christmas setting and catchy tunes, but also its wry humor for the grownups. When Daddy Warbucks invites FDR to dinner, for instance, he shouts to his assistant, “Find out what Democrats eat!”
The sparkling performance put on at the last dress rehearsal Thursday night by some 60 children of Prana was amazing. Natalie Bailey as Annie exudes innocence and charm. Even though she is spunky and not above self-promotion, Natalie convincingly shows us that Annie is truly a child in need of the love of parents and still living in the hope she will find hers. “It’s the Hard Knock Life” is rousing, with 30 or 40 appealing orphans singing their bedraggled hearts out. In the street scene where Annie adopts fluffy dog Sandy, she sings “Tomorrow” as a moving solo. Abby MacFayden, as Grace Farrell, has a very good singing voice and is quite believable as secretary to and fan of Oliver Warbucks. The song “NYC” is a love letter to the Big Apple and is done admirably. Rooster, as played by Saachi Chandrakant, is a charming, sneaky scoundrel. Lily, his moll, as played by Alison Fonseca, has flounce and a great “New Yawk” accent. The pair sing and dance with Miss Hannigan in a hilarious version of “Easy Street.” Ally Forbes plays a forceful Daddy Warbucks with aplomb, but shows his soft side too as he becomes attached to Annie. She sings well in “Together at Last.” Also outstanding was Nicholas DiPippo, who played radio personality Bert Healy with class, and also projected well when singing.
But Adele Boggess stole the show as Miss Hannigan. As the heartless matron of the orphanage, Adele showed an amazing range of emotions. At different points in the show she is a domineering hag, a phony-sweet model citizen, a sophisticated lady, and a con woman. Her wacky dancing in “Easy Street” stood out, and her lament “Little Girls” was sung so well she even managed to wring a drop or two of compassion out of the audience for her mean character. As she slunk around the stage, hand on hip, she gave the aura of a jaded middle aged dame on the prowl. As the cast came forward at the end to be recognized, her outrageous, over the top bow was hilarious.
There were great numbers with girls in sequined dresses, dancing in heels! There was a full kick line with “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” with admirable singing soloists. The costumes, from the littlest orphans in pinafores on up, were adorable and imaginative. The stirring finale of “Tomorrow,” with every cast member on stage, captured the theme of the show so well – that even with a day, or a month, or a year that is gray and lonely, the sun will come out and tomorrow is only a day away.
As always, Roberta Weiner moved among the children seamlessly, encouraging. A few previous students were there to watch the show, and, I think, as much to also reconnect with a teacher they will never forget. Joanne Hines kept a rock solid beat going on the keyboard so that even the most timid actress could hear her cue and know when to come in. Kudos to the choreographer for showcasing the dance abilities of these budding actors and actresses, and managing all their comings and goings, on such a small stage. It’s worthy to note that all the children who were too young to be vaccinated sang through their masks, and those old enough to be vaccinated just took down their masks to sing solos, duets and trios. They were miked on their hair. This extra expense for Prana, plus the opening of all the windows in the UCC hall in Millis, and the keeping of all the small children from gathering backstage to permit social distancing, were all done to protect the safety of the children and the audience. Still I could hear clearly, and enjoyed every toe tapping moment.
What a joy!