WATERLOO – A talented cast brings strong, memorable and energetic performances to “Annie,” the Waterloo Community Playhouse’s holiday musical which opened Thursday to a standing ovation at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.
In the heartwarming musical set in the 1930s Great Depression, little orphan Annie dreams of finding her parents who left her at a New York City orphanage 11 years earlier. Half of a silver locket and a note is all she has to her name, except for optimism and determination. She is taken away from the orphanage and the clutches of heartless Miss Hannigan to spend the Christmas holidays with rich industrialist Oliver Warbucks. When Warbucks decides to become Daddy and adopt the red-headed, street-smart little girl and search for her missing parents, Miss Hannigan and her brother, Rooster, and his girlfriend, Lily, conspire to bilk the billionaire out of some big bucks.
This WCP production, directed by Greg Holt, vividly captures the Depression-era atmosphere. Screen projections, set furnishings and props are used effectively to establish each location and scene, ranging from the garishly painted orphanage crammed with bunk beds and Hooverville, a shanty town for the homeless, to the streets of NYC and Warbucks’ lavish Fifth Avenue mansion.
With a 38-member cast, including 16 orphans, Holt opts for the show’s pre-recorded soundtrack rather than give up stage space for an orchestra pit. The music is lush and brings polish to the production, which also debuts the theater’s new sound system.
Costumes designed by Janna Poole-Fairbanks are right on the money both in style and time period, especially Annie’s red coat and pretty dresses as she goes from rags to riches, Miss Hannigan’s patched and colorful dress and the orphans’ drab outfits.
Annie, Warbucks and Miss Hannigan are the key characters in any “Annie” production, and Gina Brooks, Darrell White and Kristin Teig Torres are wonderful in their respective roles. Brooks has a sweet singing voice and winning personality as Annie, and she shares a nice chemistry with White. She sings “Tomorrow” several times, and her confidence and charm grows each time.
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White, who is making his WCP debut, plays Warbucks as a wealthy tycoon who is self-assured except when confronted by this sprite of a girl. He towers above her in stature and manner, but he has a loving heart and melts into a puddle for the orphan as he sings “Something Was Missing.” Perhaps he could do with a little more gruffness at times, but that’s a minor quibble. I hope we’ll see White in more area shows.
Torres owns the stage each time she’s on it. She is a seasoned performer with a marvelous singing voice, and her Miss Hannigan is a hoot. On more than one occasion Thursday night, she brought the house down. She’s cruel, funny, snarky and a tippler who carries a big stick that she uses to threaten the children and a piercing whistle she shrieks to call them to order. She terrorizes the orphans, but demands that they recite “We love you, Miss Hannigan!”
WCP veteran Mike Waggoner is sensational as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is being urged by Warbucks to come up with a New Deal to revive manufacturing and jobs in the country. He, too, falls under Annie’s spell. Christine Dornbusch gives a delightful performance as Warbucks’ executive secretary Grace, and there are fine turns by J’Kalein Madison as radio host Bert Healy and Jordan Mackinster as the oily Rooster.
The young cast of orphans is simply awesome as they run circles around Miss Hannigan, pulling faces and mugging behind her back. Their dance sequences, choreographed by Candace Van Hove, are pulled off without a hitch. Lyra Benjamin as the pint-sized, cheeky Orphan Molly steals the show with her spot-on imitation of Miss Hannigan.
And of course, the dog lover in me swells with pride as Sophie, a miniature golden-doodle, won "ahhs" and applause for her appearance as Annie's pooch Sandy. That's a good girl.
See this show through Dec. 16.