Directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson, the show exudes the uplifting and heartfelt spirit of Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan’s 1977 Broadway hit – a quintessential rags-to-riches story based on Harold Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip about the adventures of a redheaded orphan girl and her dog, Sandy, set during the Great Depression.
Accolades for the original Broadway material include: several Tony Awards, including Best Musical; John Huston’s 1982 Academy Award-nominated movie adaption; an Emmy-winning 1999 made-for-television movie; numerous national and international touring productions; and three Broadway revivals, including a 35th anniversary production set to open this fall.
As the 10-piece orchestra, under the musical direction of Benjamin Bentler, victoriously conveys Strouse’s Vaudeville-like swing and jazz score, the more-than-30-person cast delivers Charnin’s iconic lyrics and Michael Muzatko’s appealing choreography with fervor.
The show’s design team, led by Peter Hardie (set) and Jan Wanless (costumes) meticulously re-creates the show’s backdrop of 1930s New York City – from the orphans’ tattered pinafores and rickety bunk beds at the gloomy Municipal Girl Orphanage to the Big Apple’s twinkling skyline, high society finery and opulence of the Warbucks mansion.
Starring in a young actress’ dream role, Sophia Caruso is clearly – in showbiz terms – a triple threat. Though 10-year-old Caruso’s approach to the role is vulnerable, soft-spoken and a lot less rough-and-tumble than some of her Annie predecessors – e.g., Aileen Quinn’s portrayal in the 1982 film version – she is just as effective. Her belting of the show’s signature ballad, “Tomorrow,” seems second nature. One simply cannot resist her charm as she warms the heart of detached billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks (Mark Pleasant). She also relates well with frisky sidekick and SpokAnimal rescue dog Sandy, even when he seems to care less about the audience and more about the treats in her pocket.
Pleasant is convincing as the successful yet lonely Warbucks, even though he doesn’t display the character’s traditional amount of gruffness nor bald cap and white dinner jacket. Vocally, he delivers a smooth and moving rendition of “Something Was Missing.” Pleasant and Caruso’s interactions are sincere, and they make a fine tap-dancing duo in “I Don’t Need Anything But You.”
In a role made famous by such greats as Carol Burnett, Kathy Bates, Sally Struthers and Nell Carter, Phedre Burney-Quimby gives a less abrasive yet fitting portrayal of the cruel orphanage supervisor, Miss Hannigan. Burney-Quimby who played the role of Annie in the Civic’s last production 28 years ago, is complemented by Muzatko, who also plays the role of Miss Hannigan’s con-man brother, Rooster, and his attractive dame, Lily (Angela Pierson).
Andrea Dawson is poised as Warbucks’ personal secretary, Grace Farrell. With Marlene Dietrich-like looks and glamour, the soprano’s vocals chime like porcelain bells.
The 10 orphans deliver much of the show’s playfulness. Among them are spunky Molly (Marlena Mizzoni); worrisome Duffy (Autumn Plucker); and bully Pepper (Kiersten Gasper).
Other highlights include: Annie and the orphans’ “Hard Knock Life” percussion routine using tin buckets, scrub brushes and mops; Mark Sims as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his cabinet’s hopeful “Tomorrow” reprise; tap dancing by radio announcer Bert Healy (Adam Peterson); and a brief yet memorable solo by Morgan Keene as a star-to-be in the ensemble number “N.Y.C.”
Closing the theater’s impressive 65th anniversary season on a particularly high note, this first-rate Civic production is one you will not want to miss.