Leepin’ Lizards! It’s the 1930’s Again!

People camping out in the streets of New York due to economic woes created by a Republican administration. Wealthy billionaires living without income problems, but worried about idled factories. An Democratic administration clueless about what to do to successfully put people back to work. Sounds like the news you read in this week’s papers, but it isn’t. Rather, it is the underlying situation of the musical we saw last night at Cabrillo Music Theatre: “Annie” (book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Martin Charnin).

Annie” has been around since 1979, and there have been numerous productions: Broadway, regional, amateur, high school, and I even know of a middle school production coming up at Nobel Middle School. It has not only been on stage, but has both small and large screen productions. Basically, it is the story of the comic strip heroine Little Orphan Annie, who is adopted from the New York City Orphanage by the billionaire Daddy Warbuck, after being found by his assistant Grace. Of course, there must be a foil to this story: in this case, it is the orphanage administrator, Miss Hannigan (a great comic role), aided and abetted by her brother Rooster and his moll, Lily St. Regis, who pretend to be Annie’s parents. It’s a feel good story written in a time of economic malaise, featuring an optimistic president, FDR, and a little girl whose optimism saves the day, as well as, umm, Tomorrow.

So we have a feel good story that has been very successful (although the story of its gestation is interesting, as it the story of the abortive attempts to create a sequel ((cough) Annie 2 (cough) Annie Warbucks)). So there’s not much to criticize about the plot, although I will point one thing out for the aficianados: During “You Won’t Be an Orphan For Long“, I caught traces of a song that had been cut from the show, “We Got Annie“. It was interesting to hear it.

Cabrillo, as usual, did a very good job with the show. The production was directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld, who only had a few missteps (in particular, his version of “Hard Knock Life” sounded, at least up in the balcony, like “Harsh Knock Life”, and he had Bert Healy doing a brogue, which was just wrong for the character). Wilkenfeld also tended to direct the children in a way that overplayed their cuteness, which I’m wasn’t sure was strictly necessary, but is a common problem with this show. Wilkenfeld did let the comic folks do their comic routines to please the audiences, which (of course) is why he selected the Miss Hannigan he did. Luckily, in most cases, the direction wasn’t visible, which is how it should be.

This show had a large cast, with a mix of Cabrillo regulars and newcomers, equity and non-equity. A few standouts on the positive side. My particular favorite was Norman Largeæ as Daddy Warbuck. Large gave the role a warmth and humanity I haven’t seen from many; this combined with a great singing voice made him a joy to watch. As Miss Hannigan, Sally Strothersæ did her usual schtick of playing up the comedy and physical acting. This mostly worked, although I recognized a few of her stock physical bits that she has been doing since her days on “All In The Family”. She was fun to watch, and interacted will with Dink O’Neal at Rooster Hannigan and Noelle Marion as Lily St. Regis. I really enjoyed Christanna Rowader as Grace Farrell: she brought a beauty and a (umm) grace to the role that was delightful; this combined with a good singing voice made her a good companion to Normal Large. Lastly, I’d like to highlight two members of the ensemble who called out to me: Gloria Bennett as Sophie the Kettle/Mrs. Pugh, who was wonderful in the “We’d Like To Thank You, Herbert Hoover” number, and Tessa Grady as “A Star To Be”/Ronnie Boylan, who was just spectacular in the “N.Y.C.” number. Lastly, I’ll note that the pooch Oliver, playing Sandy, did an excellent job.

You notice that I haven’t talked about the titular lead, Quinn Allyn Martin as Annie. Part of that was because I couldn’t see her face too well from the balcony, but there were points where her singing seemed a little off to me. It wasn’t a major problem (my wife called it 2%), and I’ll note she improved as the show went on. For the most part, Ms. Martin did great—particularly in the second act.

A few negatives: I wasn’t particularly impressed with Andrew Brasted’s Bert Healy/Cordell Hull, but I think that’s because I’m too used to Peter Marshall‘s smooth portrayal in the original version I saw. Similarly, although Ronald Rezac did a valiant job as Franklin D. Roosevelt, the part is always Tom Hatten to me.
Rounding out the large ensemble were: David Gilchrist (Drake), Rachel Albrecht (Tessie), Olivia Chambers (Duffy), Kaitlyn Dorff (July), Natalie Esposito (Kate), Natalie Jefferson (Chatterbox), Jessica Quill (Pepper), Kristina Van Horst (Molly), Antonia Vivino (Jersey), Farley Cadena (Mrs. Greer/Francis Perkins), Camden Gonzales (Roxy Usher/Dance Captain), Ben Hackney (Henry Morgenthau), Aaron Jacobs (Sound Effect Man/Judge Brandeis), Julia Jasiunas (Connie Boylan), Paul Marchegiani (Bundles McCloskey), David Masters (Fred McCracken/Harold Ickes), Alex Mondoza (Marine Guard), Kelly Roberts (Jimmy Johnson/Louis Howe), and Gerrie O’Brien (Bonnie Boylan).
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Musically and movement-wise, the production was excellent. Choreography was by Heather Castillo, who did a reasonably good job with the movements, although some of the little ones didn’t quite execute things right :-). Ilana Eden served as musical director and conductor of the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra… which at 15 musicians, was pretty sizable and something you don’t see often these days. I should note that Cabillo’s shows are worth seeing for the live orchestra alone!

Technically, the production exhibited the usual Cabrillo technical strengths and weaknesses. The lighting by Rand Ryan was good, although as usual the use of the follow spot was noticable. Jonathan Burke’s sound was, for the most part, good, although at times the orphans sounded muddled. Scenere was designed by Kenneth Foy for Theatre of the Stars by the Pittsburgh CLO, with costumes provided by FCLO Music Theatre in Fullerton. Christine Gibson was the wardrobe supervisor, with Mark Travis Hoyer as the wig and makeup supervisor. All of the scenery, clothing, and wigs did a great job of establishing locale and time, and setting the sceen. Oliver (Sandy) was trained by William Berloni; I’ll note that Oliver was a rescue puppy and has been playing Sandy since 2008! Tim Schroepfer was Technical Director. Allie Roy served as Production Stage Manager, assisted by Jessica Standifer.

There are two more performances of Annie at Cabrillo: Today at 3:00pm and 7:00pm. I’m sure tickets are available.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: The last weekend of October brings “Victor Victoria” at the Malibu Stage Company on Saturday. November will start with The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT on November 5. It will also bring “Day Out With Thomas” at Orange Empire (We’re working Veterans Day, but we’re not sure about the weekend yet). Karen will also be seeing “Riverdance” at the Pantages on November 16. I’m still waiting to ticket “Bring It On” at the Ahmanson (held for November 25, pending ticketing, hottix on sale for our block on November 8). Thanksgiving weekend also brings the last show of the REP season, “The Graduate”, on Saturday November 26. Also of potential interest, if time is available, are “A Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day” at the El Portal (Nov 2-20), “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant” at the Secret Rose (9/30-11/20; Theatremania has $10 tickets with code “PREGNANT”); or “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center (11/19-12/16). Not of interest is “South Street” at the Pasadena Playhouse, given the reviews. The first weekend of December is lost preparing for ACSAC, although I might squeeze in something on Saturday. The next weekend is busy, with a Mens Club Shabbat in the morning, and Travels with my Aunt” at the Colony Theatre in the evening. The remainder of December is unscheduled, but I’m sure we’ll fill things in for Winter Break. Of course, there is the de rigueur movie and Chinese food on Christmas day. As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.


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