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A CurtainUp Review
David Lohrey
Once you've been to New York, every other place is just Secaucus.
---Daddy Warbucks.
Rich Hebert & Sarah Hyland
Rich Hebert & Sarah Hyland (Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
Annie, the 1977 Tony Award winning hit musical from the skillful hands of Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, is not usually thought of as a Christmas show, but it does possess many features of such holiday favorites as A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life. After all, the musical is clearly a favorite among kids, dog lovers, optimists and suckers for one more celebration of New York.

The current revival now on display at the Papermill Playhouse under the direction of Greg Ganakas should please the kids and their grannies, and might escape the criticism of first-time viewers, but for those with memories of the Broadway production, it will surely disappoint. Part of the problem may be with the show itself and not with the production; it simply doesn't hold up as well as such classics as The King and I or Company. There's not a whole lot holding the piece together, and one girl with one song ("Tomorrow") doesn't quite do the trick.

Nonetheless, it would take one hard-hearted soul to withstand the charms of the chorus of orphans who sing their hearts out and dance up a storm. From their first entrance at the New York Municipal Orphanage to their return in the last scene as Annie's guests at the Warbucks Mansion, these spirited youngsters win over the audience. In fact, the entire orphanage sequence, beginning with the sets by Michael Anania, establishes a high standard. Of special interest is Catherine Cox's Miss Hannigan, the conniving orphanage director. Ms Cox possesses enormous comic talents, but fails to control rein herself in when she needs to appear menacing. Her maddeningly wide grin in the opening scenes spoils an otherwise compelling performance.

Like Hello, Dolly this is one musical that rises or falls on the strength of its leading lady. Sarah Hyland, who plays Annie, doesn't quite succeed in establishing herself as the first among equals. Talented as she is, Ms Hyland doesn't possess the energy and stage presence to hold the stage. She skips about, offers a commendable rendition of "Tomorrow," and proves herself more than capable, but finally she fails to leave a lasting impression.

Nevertheless, there are notable performances. Crista Moore, for example, makes quite an impression as Grace, Warbuck's personal assistant. Ms Moore has a perfect stage body, tall and slim, and she moves with marvelous grace. She carries herself with that period flair that is so sorely missed in the modern theatre. Ms Moore has that talent of being able to both communicate and radiate complex emotions simultaneously. When she is on stage the play comes alive.

Rich Hebert plays Daddy Warbucks with the stride and the smile of a man with a mission. His scenes with Annie are especially moving. He offers an entirely convincing performance, as do Eric Michael Gillett as President Roosevelt and Tripp Hanson as Bert Healy, host of the Oxydent Hour of Smiles. This recreation of a 1930s radio hour show is one of the highlights of this production. Mr. Hanson and the beautiful Boylan Sisters played by Karyn Overstreet, Montego Glover and Jennifer Sharon Taylor provide here the energy and spunk the rest of the production lacks.

The Paper Mill has proven itself more than capable of delivering the goods. Perhaps it would not be unfair to ask that they seek in the future to select their material with eye toward stretching their loyal audience.

Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Director: Greg Ganakas.
Music Director: Tom Helm.

Cast: Sarah Hyland, Rich Hebert, Catherine Cox, Crista Moore, Jim Walton, Tia Speros, Eric Michael Gillett.
Scenic Design: Michael Anania.
Lighting Design: F. Mitchell Dana.
Costume Design: Jimm Halliday.
Running Time: 2 Hours w/ one 15-minute intermission
The Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, New Jersey (973) 376-4343.
Opens 10/30/2002 thru 12/08/03. Check schedule with theatre.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 11/10/02.

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