Saturday, December 08, 2018

“Annie” Gets It Done!

Cynthia Jones as Miss Hannigan (Tracy Martin)
The 5th Avenue Theatre
Through December 30, 2018

Annie, the musical, may be 40 plus years old, but since it started life as a “period piece,” set in 1933, it feels as fresh as the day it was written. Sure, it elevates an oligarch to hero status, though he only “saves” one orphan on Christmas, but if you look past that part to the simple story of people finding those who need them, it’s warmly inviting and a bit tear-inducing.

Part of the huge success of Annie has been the music. It contains iconic songs that people have grown up with for so many years now that the whole audience can practically break out singing with the cast. Song titles you would recognize include: Tomorrow, Hard Knock Life, Maybe, N.Y.C. and Easy Street!

The story, based on a long-running cartoon strip, Little Orphan Annie, focuses on a sturdy 11-year-old girl in an orphanage who was dropped off at birth with a letter from her parents saying they would be back to pick her up. Annie (played by Faith Young the night reviewed, who nails the sturdiness and has solid vocals) longs for her parents to come back, but weathers the antics of the horrid Ms. Hannigan (a comedy-turn-gem by Cynthia Jones) who takes care of the orphanage.

Coincidentally, a billionaire, Oliver Warbucks (played by an ebullient Timothy McCuen Piggee), decides to send his secretary (the lovely Jessica Skerritt) to bring an orphan back to the mansion for Christmas and she chooses Annie. Annie wins his heart and he wants to adopt her. But Hannigan’s brother, Rooster (Dane Stokinger) and his girlfriend Lily (Cheyenne Casebier) scheme to fake being Annie’s parents.

Will those dastardly Hannigans steal Annie away and get money? Will Oliver Warbucks believe them? Can you imagine these questions in Comic Sans in bubbles in a comic strip?

Of course it’s a happy ending; it’s a Christmas show! Warbucks gets to be a Daddy and marry his lovely secretary, and Annie gets her family and the other orphans get help, too.

The uniquely diverse casting of this show, with African-Americans as both Warbucks and Hannigan and a “mixed-marriage-and-adoption” ending lend a distinctly modern and “color-blind” feeling to the show. This kind of casting demonstrates how easy it is to produce top-drawer entertainment and to do it with an off-hand inclusion that signals a “no big deal” attitude.

This is where The 5th Avenue Theatre, as a company and organization, has been headed recently and it is to be applauded. We can only hope that they are working on including similar diversities behind the scenes in all aspects. If so, they are positioning the company toward a great future as an example to all such large size theatrical organizations in “how it’s done.”

Directed by talented actor/director Billie Wildrick, the 5th Avenue production is full of all the right elements – heart, verve, optimism and great casting. The technical aspects of musicianship (Caryl Fantel) and choreography (Kelli Foster Warder) are top-notch. The ensemble of young girls was enthusiastic and snapped their uniform choreography out with dispatch!

I should note that these stalwart theater artists put on a sparkling show the evening after a very long week, including opening night, and a real security scare during the matinee performance where the company decided it was safest to cancel that show. So, regardless of their personal exhaustion, they pulled together for the Sunday evening show and made us all cheer!

For more information, go to or call 206-625-1900.

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