By Gary Murray
Starring Issie Swickle, Lynn Andrews and Gilgamesh Taggett
Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by Martin Charnin
What can be said about Annie that has not been said a thousand times before? It was the 1977 musical that won seven Tony Awards. The work has been translated in different languages and has played in one form or another on just about every continent on the planet. A new touring revival of the original stage production of Annie takes over the hardwoods of the Winspear Opera House as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center from June 23 – July 5.
The story takes place during the Great Depression. Annie (Issie Swickle) is an eleven year-old girl who lives in an orphanage. The play starts with “Maybe” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life”. Young Issie Swickle just lets her voice fly with the first number and works with the ensemble with the second. Both are charming and the second number is a show-stopping dance spectacle. The little girls who sing and dance are adorable and talented beyond belief.
One of the true highlights of the entire work is with “Tomorrow” the biggest number of the play. Issie Swickle just steps back and lets the song launch into the stratosphere. This kid has the kind of chops that will set her on the path to the upper levels of Broadway. The set is just a girl and a dog with the backdrop of the Big Apple. The simple setting gives a classic feel to the moment.
“Little Girls” is yet another magical moment. Lynn Andrews takes the role and gives it an over the top spin. She prances and schemes in the best of a villainous Cruella De Vil but still manages to work with her young orphans. They all dance and sing with manic glee.
The first act is where we meet Oliver Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett) our war-mongering mogul. He opens his house to one orphan during Christmas and this time it is Annie. That sets into motion all of the elements of the play. It is a slight story but still a classic one. The idea of going to the movies opens up an idea of the promise that is NYC.
There is not a weak member in the cast. Even in the smallest roles, there is a powerful voice and a strong thespian. There are so many great actors on stage; one begins to wonder if there is anyone left on Broadway to work? Ashley Edler as Grace, the assistant does a solid job with an unsung singing role. She brings wit and charm to the proceedings.
The Second Act is just as strong as the first. Opening with “You are Never Fully Dressed without a Smile” we get an old-fashioned radio show where it is announced that there is a $50,000 reward for finding Annie’s parents.
It sets up the second half of the work and the eventual adoption of Annie by Warbucks. It is also a showcase for Gilgamesh Taggett. The seasoned actor takes the role through the paces with such a stoic grace. He is such a charming presence on stage and his voice blends well with Issie Swickle in both singing and acting.
The sets are a combination of traditional backdrops and computerized backdrop generation system. In one scene we see the snow falling through the windows of the mansion. There is an eye for detail that brings a high degree of believability to the play. Also, the costumes have the feel of the 1930s while still sparkling.
To put it bluntly, Annie is the must-see theatrical event of the summer. It has wonderful songs, an amazing cast and technical aspects that should not be missed. It is family entertainment on a grand scale and a wonderful night of entertainment.