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Monday, 01 August 2011 23:27

It's that girl again

Written by Bob Wilcox
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I'm told that somewhere in the U.S., every day of the year, someone is performing Thornton Wilder's Our Town. I suspect that Annie runs it a close second.

As long as little girls want to play orphans, and doting parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins want to see them play orphans, The Muny will stage Annie every five years. But most of the productions I run across now are in community theatres or schools.

That's true of a couple of current local productions, one in South Roxana, Illinois, and the other, the one I've seen, in Florissant at Hawthorne Players. Hawthorne Players has a reputation for usually doing good work with their annual musical – The Producers last year was amazing.

Annie maintains the tradition. Director Ken Clark and choreographer Jeanette Remines have rehearsed the company thoroughly and well and given them work that makes sense, that moves along, and that they can mostly handle. Director Clark's set designs, a little sketchy in places, let us know where we are and keep the scene changes brief.

As Annie, Grace Robertson has the requisite voice, charm, confidence, and sure sense of timing – traits shared, happily, by all the orphans. As usual, the smallest and cutest, Hannah Donaldson, regularly steals the spotlight as Molly.

Marian Holtz makes a triumphant return to Annie (as I recall, she played Lily St. Regis on the Goldenrod), this time in a gloriously over-the-top performance as Miss Hannigan, head of the orphanage. Todd Micali, another fine comic and an impressive dancer, plays her con-man brother Rooster, and Sara Rae Womack keeps pace with them as Rooster's girlfriend Lily.

Jim Merlo brings the proper gravitas and a fine voice to the role of Oliver Warbucks, though I thought he sometimes played too deliberately. If you want to have a sure center of gravity in a production, cast Kay Love – here she's Warbucks' secretary, Grace Farrell. The pipes are fine too.

Vocal directors Richard Eichenberger and Mary Eichenberger get a good blend from the large chorus – now Hooverville homeless, then Manhattan residents, and finally Warbucks' large staff of servants. The brass and reeds sound particularly good in the orchestra of music director Joseph Paule, Senior – it's the right sound for Charles Strouse's score, with lyrics by Martin Charnin. Thomas Meehan's book takes Annie from the depths of the Depression to the heights of wealth and excess – but always with that big-hearted American common touch. Jean Heckmann's costumes give full expression to that period and its people.

Struggling to stay in character as Sandy, the stray Annie picks up, the poor pup Tyson apparently was distracted by someone's companion canine in the front row on the night I attended. But that's show biz. And I could happily go to my grave without ever hearing "Tomorrow" another time. Nevertheless, Hawthorne Players have once again done well with their annual musical.

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