Theatre-by-the-Sea's "Annie" is a Mixed Bag

Aug 1, 2013

It's a hard knock life for Annie and her fellow orphans, who take the state at Theatre by the Sea until August 10th.
Credit Steven Richard Photography / Theatre-by-the-Sea

Ah, yes. “The sun’ll come out tomorrow/Bet your bottom dollar.” Most of us remember that lyric. And you know, when “Annie,” after trying out at the Goodspeed Opera House, opened on Broadway in 1977 it definitely earned a lot more than a buck. With its bouncy music and improbable but oh-so-charming, very American narrative the show was up for 18 Tony Awards, and won 14, including “Best Musical.”

The show then traveled from Boston to Bangkok as Annie and her dog Sandy, and her multi-millionaire benefactor Daddy Warbucks, made the sun shine once again around the world.

Now, ”Annie” has come back to Matunuck in a production that has many of the best aspects of the traditional “Annie” with, unfortunately, some things that don’t work quite as well as they should. So call this “Annie” a mixed blessing.

Let’s begin with the good stuff. The Annie I saw was Lauren Weintraub, the young lady who stepped in at the very last minute to take over the title role. A powerhouse, vocally and physically, she gave us an Annie less winsome than some but definitely a hard-driving winner. The chorus of little girls too was first rate.

As Warbucks Todd Fenstermaker isn’t the uproarious capitalist as some have played him. But he is quite real and wonderful as a tough guy falling fast for a charming child in need of his aid. He makes Warbucks a full human being.

As that ever-so-nefarious con-man supreme, Rooster Hannigan, Nathaniel Shaw is fluid dancer and a funny scoundrel. Warbuck’s Gal Friday is played perfectly – nice and strong – by Margaret Loesser Robinson, and Greg London is a sweetheart as Drake, the butler with a heart.

2nd story Theatre’s regular, Tom Roberts, is a terrific Franklin Delano Roosevelt, making the former president a powerful caretaker.

Somehow, though, this “Annie” misses the mark several ways. The crowds, on the streets of New York, in the Warbuck mansion, seem sluggish, without the brio that you usually see in “Annie.” The six-piece orchestra also seemed to be holding back, not finding the charge and lightness of the score.

In the usually crowd-pleasing role of Miss Hannigan, that boozing, deeply unhappy, little girl-scaring monster of Annie’s orphanage, Jan Neuberger, a Broadway veteran, fails to catch the inherent humor that underlies, and supports,  the nastiness. The result is a Miss Hannigan with a false sense of the attack, and fear, that usually compels audiences to love this nasty lady.

So, this must go down as mixed production. Director Richard Sebellico has captured well the real secret of the success of “Annie:” that sense of American optimism that propels the story despite its Depression era downside. That, and the good performances, probably make it worth seeing unless, like me, you are a longtime “Annie” lover.

PS: The dog was wonderful as Sandy.

Want to Go?

“Annie” continues at Theatre by the Sea in Matunuck through August 10th.

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