Annie” at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Leapin’ lizards! Annie and Sandy are back!

Published: Monday, July 17, 2017 By: Chesley Plemmons Source: The Town Tribune

Leapin’ lizards!  Annie and Sandy are back!

If you remember the expressions, “Leapin’ lizards” or “Gee whiskers,” congratulations on your longevity. Both were favorite sayings of Little Orphan Annie, the pint-sized newspaper comic strip character, popular from the mid-1920’s, until well into the 1940’s, 

Annie’s story has been retold in many mediums but its most successful translation is probably as the 1977 Broadway Tony Award winning Best Musical.

  Leapin’ lizards, kids, there’s a high-spirited and endearing production of that musical onstage now at the popular Westchester Broadway dinner theatre, and Gee whiskers, it’s fun!

The story that inspired three theatre friends to write this evergreen musical was based on the famous comic strip.

The trio, consisting of Martin Charnin (music), Charles Strouse (lyrics) and Thomas Meehan (book), did not attempt to create a “comic strip” musical. They focused instead on the underlying philosophy of the story: hope, determination, and courage.

Annie is still an orphan searching for her parents again odds that suggest Dickens at his harshest. The musical is set in a down beat  New York during the Depression of the 1930’s.

What will register with most youngsters is Annie’s gutsy determination. Older ones and their parents may tune in the grim reality of the times: joblessness, homelessness, and poverty. The musical can be a teaching lesson on American history.

The Westchester production is a good one. The director, Mary Jane Houdina, has been associated with productions of Annie for years, and it's clear she has developed a perspective about the characters and the story that is both sharp and emotionally touching.

Two very young actresses rotate in the role of Annie. At the matinee I attended, Kaylin Hedges had the part and gave a firecracker of a performance that belied her wee stature. Payton Ella is the alternate, and with the quality of this production, one can assume she is dynamite as well.

Susann Fletcher has the unenviable role  (as far as audience sympathy goes) of the mean Miss Hannigan.  She’s the stern ruler of the orphanage where Annie finds herself trapped. Fletcher embodies her part with gleeful malice and makes her character one that any child (or adult) would recoil from.

Equally odious is her scheming brother Rooster who is played by the loose-limbed Adam Roberts. His cohort, the sleazy Lily St. Regis (Audrey Sinn) flounces about “with airs” hilariously.

There are some  “good” people in the story. Billy Clarke Taylor is Lt. Ward, the kind of upright cop you hope will show up when you need one. Celeste Hudson as a billionaire’s secretary is as pert and blonde as a 1930’s film starlet with heart.

Michael DeVries has the important role of billionaire Oliver Warbucks who takes Annie under his roof and eventually adopts her as his own.  He paints a solid, warmhearted portrait of a man who has the intelligence and compassion to use his money wisely.

There’s a funny throw back to the 1930’s with the introduction of  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the President of the United States (John Charles Kelly). Kelly acquits himself quite nicely as a singer and a believable historic figure.

Costumes by Suzy Benziner are colorful and eye-catching, and set designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case effectively use projections and slides to convey a bygone era.

Director Houdina is also the show’s choreographer, and she puts the large ensemble of singer and dancers through some high-kicking, energetic numbers.

Rounding out the cast, and no less important, are a dozen or so young misses who plays Annie’s orphan friends. They sing, dance and, best of all, bedevil Miss Hannigan.

And a woof of praise for Sunny the rescued mutt that plays the part of Annie’s best pal – Sandy. Good dog!

A performance of “Annie” combined with the experience of dinner theatre makes this an excellent outing for families with kids

For tickets, directions or show information call (914) 592-2222, or on line at www.BroadwayTheatre.com.