Review: ‘Annie’ at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Monday, July 24, 2017 By: Lori Speiser Source: DC Metro Arts

Westchester Broadway Theatre is currently presenting Annie, and this production, directed and choreographed by Mary Jane Houdina, is enjoyment and smiles from start to finish. In 1970 Martin Charnin was inspired by the Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” and bought the rights to turn it into a musical which opened on Broadway in 1977, with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin who also directed. Annie would then go on to win seven Tony Awards including best musical.

In the observed performance, Peyton Ella who portrays Annie is endearing. She is a terrific actress, expressing herself well. Her powerful singing voice, however, is truly impressive! She sang each song with confidence from the softer “Maybe” to the rousing “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” and the well-loved “Tomorrow”.

Little Molly was sweetly portrayed by Haylie Shea Christiano. She is so adorable, and then so funny when imitating a drunken Miss Hannigan. Anika Bobra’s high-pitched voice as orphan Tessie is also very amusing.

The horrible Miss Hannigan was played to perfection by Susan Fletcher. She uses her body language and facial expressions exceptionally well and while being humorous, she imbued the character with a pathos which made it difficult to dislike her. The number “Little Girls” is a stand-out.

Michael DeVries was a quintessential Daddy Warbucks, seamlessly blending his tough and tender sides. He has a large stage presence and a great voice.

The sweet and patient Grace Farrell was portrayed with refinement and poise by Celeste Hudson. She has quite a lovely clear soprano voice.

Just as it was hard to dislike Miss Hannigan, it was more difficult to dislike her brother the rotten Rooster, dynamically acted by Adam Roberts. He was appealing and mischievous. But his dancing during “Easy Street” was exceptional. His fluid body movements were reminiscent of the abilities of Dick Van Dyke. You will be grinning ear to ear.

Other highlights include Roger Preston Smith’s proper yet impish Drake the butler, the Boylan Sisters’ (Rochelle Smith, Jesse Lynn Harte, and Kelly Black) pleasing harmonizing on the radio show, and of course another scene stealer, Sunny as Sandy the dog!

Annie has a large cast in a story set in the 1930s and Heather Carey, the costume coordinator, did a marvelous job. Each and every costume was appropriate down to the little details. Grace’s suit was lovely, but the hat and cape really topped it off. Warbuck’s suits were stylish and had him looking sharp. And the orphan’s dresses at the end will make you smile.

The set designed by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case was remarkable as always. Instead of a massive structure, they utilized different large windows for the sets: the orphanage, Warbuck’s home, and the White House. These windows let you look beyond where they utilized a huge screen to show the location, and at times informed you about the world at that time.

Grumpy’s Props supplied some terrific pieces from the time: old-fashioned typewriter, radios, a candlestick telephone and especially FDR’s wheelchair.

Under the direction of musical director Bill Stanley (keyboard), and assistant director John Bowen (keyboard), the six member orchestra did a stellar job. Other members include James Mack (percussion/drums), David Dunaway (Bass), Brian Uhl (Trumpet) and Jason Ingram (trombone). They never overpowered the singers and their music was superb. Note the trombone while in the President’s office.

Director May Jane Houdina did an excellent job including many little touches like Miss Hannigan listening to real old programs on the radio. Make sure you notice the rear of the stage so you don’t miss the dancing policeman on the street and the soldier at the White House. There is so much to love about this production.

This performance of Annie is delightful. The cast is fantastic. Every actor was spot on in their performances. The evening was filled with wonderful singing, dancing, and moments to make you grin. Don’t miss it.