It’s been a while since a local theatre group took on the classic musical Annie. The timing of this Savannah Children’s Theatre production, set in the 1930s, couldn’t be better given today’s sorry economic climate. It’s downright eerie hearing the dialogue discussing massive job losses, shuttered factories, and a mounting sense of public outrage.
Still, the whole point of Annie is being optimistic in the face of adversity — the sun’ll come out tomorrow, after all. And just as during the Great Depression, a fun night out seems to be the best short–term stimulus package.
For those unfamiliar with the Savannah Children’s Theatre, they perform in a sort of hybrid proscenium/black box space in the former Belk building at Victory and Skidaway. They’re not a new organization, but I suspect many people are unaware of their existence because they aren’t downtown.
In addition to their wide range of youth productions, the theatre also performs several mainstage shows a year, featuring combined youth/adult casts. Annie is one of these.
The theatre not only features plenty of parking, it also has very comfortable seats (complete with cupholders) — not a small detail when you’re talking about a show which runs nearly three hours including intermission, as this one does.
Most importantly, Savannah Children’s Theatre also boasts excellent direction by the tireless Kelie Miley, who doesn’t disappoint here.
The title character is portrayed by Grace Repella, who’s not only physically a perfect fit for the part but a match in temperament as well. Annie must be charismatic, spry, and clear and forceful in her delivery — Repella can project, a sadly dying art in community theatre — and this young actress excels in all those categories.
While not the most polished singer in the cast, Repella turns this into an advantage. We wouldn’t expect an 11–year–old orphan to sound like an opera singer, would we? Rather, Repella sings the redhead’s songs completely in character, as a courageous and resourceful girl with personality to spare.
I would like to see her first scene with Daddy Warbucks (the inimitable Les Taylor) slowed down a bit and played with more care. It’s a pivotal encounter, and deserves more attention.
Despite Annie’s title billing, the heavy lifting in this show belongs to the adults, especially Taylor as Warbucks, Miss Hannigan (the divine Grace Diaz Tootle), and her miscreant brother Rooster (the delightful Ray Ellis).
These names are of course among the most talented actors in Savannah, and Miley’s casting coup here means everything to the success of this production.
Tootle’s deliciously sleazy Hannigan is alone worth the price of admission, and Taylor’s warm, expert baritone brings a professional polish to the music, especially later in the show.
Supporting roles are also strong, including Jenn Doubleday as Rooster’s “dame” Lily St. Regis, Megan Youngblood as a deceptively perky Grace Farrell, Erik Carpenter as a hilarious Drake the butler, and Curt Bryant, whose Franklin Roosevelt works very well despite his strange decision to give the aristocratic president a working–class Queens accent.
Special kudos go to Cassidy Tootle, who flat out kills with her all–too–short musical minute as an aspiring starlet just arrived in Manhattan.
However, what’s most impressive to me about this production is the remarkable collective performance of the little girls who share the orphanage with Annie. No mere background players, they comprise the Greek chorus that always reminds Annie from whence she came, and they are a vital part of the show.
I deeply regret that their sheer number precludes me from mentioning them all by name, but these young girls are funny, interesting, and wholly engaged, and they never, ever miss a cue.
This is testament not only to their dedication and budding talent, but to Miley’s crisp direction as well.
Annie continues this weekend at Savannah Children’s Theatre. Go to www.savannahchildrenstheatre.org for info.