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A CurtainUp NJ Review
The situation is hopeless and getting worse — F.D.R.
Erin Mackey, Cassidy Pry, Christopher Sieber (photo credit: Jerry Dalia)
Leapin' Lizards! Can it really be forty years since the popular comic strip character endeared herself to Broadway audiences and the musical named for her became one of the most cherished of all family shows? Countless productions in regional theaters keep reminding us, as do the notably misbegotten film version and a similarly misconceived revival on Broadway twenty years ago, that a lot of this musical's success rests on the casting of the title role and that of that harridan Miss Hannigan. And we can't overlook the importance of making that Republican billionaire with a heart (not an oxymoron) Daddy Warbucks hold his own against two powerhouse female characters.

That hurdle has been nicely overcome at the Paper Mill Playhouse with those roles getting their due and more, under the direction of Mark S. Hoebee. No question that Annie can be a real treat for the holidays or actually anytime when the production backs up the familiar to most audiences book fashioned from Harold Gray's long-running comic strip Little Orphan Annie by Thomas Meehan and the bubbly, if not terrific music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin.

In its time, Annie was the quintessence of the fast fading formula musical genre; Its very predictability made it appealing. For all its slickness, familiarity and general lack of excitement, both musically and dramatically, Annie is lovable and reassuring the way a short return to nostalgia brings a sense of security. Certainly true after our boundaries were already being stretched by new waves of musical thinking. Annie isn't an old musical, it just seems like one, which is comforting in a way, if also just a bit boring.

In this production, the cast go through predictable patterns as if nothing — short of that beloved mongrel Sandy forgetting an entrance or being naughty on stage — could alter the acutely foreseeable and dimensionless activity. The Depression Era couldn't be less depressing. Even the broken windows of the Municipal Orphanage in December won't allow any ill wind to chill the warm glow that exudes from Annie and her glad-ragged cohorts as they cavort in synchronized waves of vaudevillian expertise, while avoiding as best they can the menacing of their tyrannical, hooch swigging matron of horrors, Miss Hannigan.

Cassidy Pry (at the performance I saw — she alternates the role with Peyton Ella) may be one of the more sophisticated Annies to melt a capitalist's heart. The tallish Pry, with her longish, wavy ginger hair, is likably self-assured and perky as she takes an aggressive, no-nonsense approach to Annie.

Christopher Sieber is a formidable but affable Wabucks. Sporting the obligatory shaved head and singing with a fine baritone voice, he balances the comic superficiality of the supporting roles with a distinguishing sensitivity.

As much of a vaudeville routine as it is a grotesquely one-dimensional character (that's the way the role has evolved since it was originally interpreted by the late and great Dorothy Louden), Miss Hannigan gives the hideously (I presume on purpose) costumed Beth Leavel an opportunity to send subtlety to the wind with her two numbers "Little Girls" and "Easy Street."

I doubt if Oliver Warbucks ever had a more attractive secretary than Erin Mackey whose rich soprano voice glowed brighter than the fully lighted Christmas tree in the show's final scene. Kevin Pariseau was tongue-in-cheekily effective as U.S. President F.D.R. As Annie's bogus parents, both Cooper Grodin and Kim Sava livened up the proceeding with their portrayals of Annie's bogus parents Rooster and Lily St. Regis.

Annie isn't hard to take, but its magic seems somewhat diluted given the questionable deals being offered to orphans and others these days. Arf!

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.Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music), Martin Charnin (lyrics), based on comic strip Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray
Directed by Mark S. Hoebee
Cast of Principals: Tessa Noelle Frascogna (Molly), Gabby Beredo (Pepper), Michelle Henderson (Duffy), Lauren Sun (July), Eve Johnson (Tessie), Peyton Ella and Cassidy Pry (alternates as Annie), Sloane Wolfe (Kate), Beth Leavel (Miss Hannigan), Erin Mackey (Grace), Christopher Sieber (Oliver Warbucks), Cooper Grodin (Rooster), Kim Sava (Lily), Kevin Pariseau (F.D.R.)
Original Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt
Original Costume Design: Suzy Benzinger
Costume Design for Paper Mill Playhouse: Leon Dobkowski
Lighting Design: Charlie Morrison
Sound Design: Randy Hansen
Production Stage Manager: Victoria Navarro
Musical Supervision and Direction: Jeffrey Saver
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J.
Performances: Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm; matinees Sunday, Thursday and Saturday at 1:30.
From 11/22/17 Opened 11/25/17 Ends 12/31/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/26/17

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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