Review: ANNIE

by Lynn on November 18, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer


At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto. Book by Thomas Meehan. Music by Charles Strouse. Lyrics by Martin Charnin. Directed by Allen Macinnis. Set and properties by Teresa Pryzbylski. Costumes by Melanie McNeil. Lighting by Michael Walton. Sound by Michael Laird. Musical direction by Diane Leah. Starring: Richard Binsley, Sterling Jarvis, W. Joseph Matheson, Louise Pitre, Shawna Van Omme, Jenny Weisz.

Plays at the Young People’s Theatre until Dec. 29.

Bravo to Young People’s Theatre for bringing entertaining and thoughtful theatre to young people. Artistic Director, Allen Macinnis always makes it a point to program plays that are relevant to his audience, be it about bullying; teenaged angst; peer pressure; fitting in; gay issues, and depression. They deal with serious issues but they are presented in a way that are accessible and acceptable.

The musical Annie seems like the perfect vehicle for YPT. It’s about a spunky kid, an orphan named Annie, who always has a smile and a convincing optimism even in the face of terrible obstacles. Some of the obstacles are that she lives in an orphanage with little to eat; hard work; and it’s run by a mean harridan named Miss Hannigan. She runs away but is caught and brought back.

But one day she lucks out. Oliver Warbucks, the famous billionaire, has decided to give an orphan a break and have him (he thinks all orphans are boys) spend two weeks over Christmas at his house. In this day and age we would think that troubling but this is a Broadway musical so it’s ok. Warbucks is smitten with her spirit, smile, charm and wonderful ways and ends up wanting to adopt her. Along the way Annie charms the President of the Unites States too (Roosevelt)  But then there are some scumbags who want to ruin the possibility of an adoption—namely Miss Hannigan and her brother Rooster. It all works out as musicals usually do, and everybody sings about it.

In order to make the story and theatrical experience accessible for school trips and fidgety young kinds, the show had to be cut down to an intermissionless 80 minutes. This worked a treat with Cinderella, that was cut down to a shorter playing time and given a Canadian feel to it. It doesn’t work with Annie.

There is not time for characters or relationships to build. Annie finds a stray dog Sandy, immediately bonds with him and just as easily loses him, without a comment. In truth, she would have been distraught. Somehow he comes back to her in the end. How? Not explained.

There is no time for Warbucks to really be charmed and begin to love Annie enough to adopt her. The relationship between Warbucks and his secretary, Grace, is unexplored completely.

While director Allen Macinnis has kept the pace moving, at times it seems too quick, as if a clock is ticking and they have to race through it.  There seems to be a constant swirl of activity as well with Nicola Pantin’s choreography. It’s all breathless but without purpose.

In an interesting move, Annie is not played by a talented child but by a talented twenty-year-old Jenny Weisz. She brings the singing chops and the sweet acting chops to the roll without too much of a suspension of disbelief. She has the nuance and experience to flesh out the performance into a believable character.

As Oliver Warbucks, Sterling Jarvis brings dignity, a sense of impatience with anything frivolous that could only come from a busy, rich man, and a nice quality when he is disarmed by Annie. As Grace, Shawna Van Omme has poise and confidence, she also knows how to handle tough cookies like Miss Hannigan.

As Miss Hannigan, the horror running the orphanage, Louise Pitre seems to be in a different play. Most of the other characters are played with a broad comedic slant. Miss Hannigan is played as a mean woman without a trace of humour. It’s an unsettling performance in which we are truly fearful for those kids and not find her funny as she is thwarted by them at every turn. Strangely still is that she seems a beat behind the music in “Little Girls” at least. It’s a decidedly flat, unvarying performance without any irony.

Annie’s reputation as a beloved musical has preceded this production. It’s been held over three times—now until Dec. 29. I wish it was a better production and a more satisfying edited version.

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