IF YOU GO
What: Beloved musical about a red-headed orphan and her shaggy dog Sandy.
When: Wednesday through Sunday evenings with selected matinees through August 13.
Where: 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers (in Royal Palm Square)
Cost: $27 to $51. Show only $27. Summer special ($18) for kids.
Information: 239-278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com
Something Else: Ticket prices include meal & show; show-only tickets ($27) available
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — Broadway Palm threw orphans, puppies, lavish sets and dazzling choreography at audiences during the premiere of summer musical "Annie" Thursday night. One charming, chirpy redhead and a bald Daddy Warbucks later, the show emerges battered but critic-proof. The sun does indeed "come out tomorrow."
"Annie," based on Harold Gray's comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, ran for six years on Broadway. Songstress Andrea McArdle made her name as the titular moppet.
Set in the midst of the Great Depression, the hopeful show follows an orphan searching for her parents and evading the schemes of Miss Hannigan before being adopted by filthy rich Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. The inspirational tune "Tomorrow" and ditty "It's the Hard Knock Life" were two of the memorable hits to come from the show.
Stuffed full of apple-cheeked little girls (a double-cast chorus of at least eight orphans) plus a dog (who clearly hates the spotlight) - the show seems tailor-made for tugging the heartstrings, even if Broadway Palm's production sometimes stumbles along the way.
There's plenty to like - even to love - in this "Annie," but for a show built on forging an intense emotional connection to one red-headed orphan, the magic doesn't always happen. Kristen E. Brock (she shares the title role with Reese Balliet) mugs for the audience and belts her songs with plenty of ear-splitting chirpy power. Her transformation into the apple-frocked and curly afro'd character from the comics brings coos.
Leading a show is a tall task for director Paul Bernier to ask of any pre-teen - especially one that only started rehearsing in late June. Although the show - and the chemistry between the leads - hasn't quite come together yet, there were hints of why Brock got the role (besides her crystalline voice). A touching scene where she dances on top of Daddy Warbucks' shoes brims with emotion. She's clearly comfortable in the role - and handled a boisterous Sandy with poise befitting actresses three times her age.
Jason Fleck brings gravitas and a sly humanity to Daddy Warbucks. He plays the role with a genuine warmth and minus the cold bossiness that's often lacking in some productions. Lucy Horton shines as brassy secretary Grace Farrell - slicing into dialogue with just the right sassy attitude and looking lovely in a series of stylish outfits.
Jason Loete and Amy Marie McCleary nearly steal the show in a few brief scenes as Rooster Hannigan and animated gal pal Lily St. Regis. Their antics and silly mugging light up the stage with every entrance. The pair join with Pauline Cobrda (Miss Hannigan) for a bootylicious, skirt-twirling, desk-rolling "Easy Street" number that's head and shoulders above anything else the audience sees all night.
Bernier has Cobrda play her Miss Hannigan as an over-the-top drunken buffoon, without the hard, bitter edge that gives the character (the true villain of the piece) her bite. Cobrda commits fully - and gets laughs - but the portrayal does the role a disservice.
I can understand toning down the character, perhaps in a nod to the family-friendly audiences Broadway Palm hopes to attract this summer, but it weakens the show. In the same vein, the famous "Hard Knock Life" number - with orphans, mops and pails - fails to connect because there's little sense the kids are truly oppressed by what is now a cartoonish caricature.
With the emotional impact of the show dimmed, "Annie" is left a series of musical vignettes (the show's music remains a spectacular, soaring peak) that highlight a sparkling ensemble and McCleary's vivid, energetic choreography.
Given only an (athletic) eight-member ensemble to work with, she opens up scenes in a fresh way that makes the stage look and feel full. Hobo camp number "I'd Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover" uses tin mugs as percussion instruments. Inventive "NYC" tosses in a few tap steps, the vocal talents of featured soloist Cassandra Nuss and a dizzying "where-do-I-look-now" style that recalls perfectly a New York street.
Robert Kovach's fabulous sets - including a gorgeous emerald and gold Warbucks mansion - would be at home on a Broadway stage. John P. White's costumes don't disappoint - especially the dozens of ensemble outfits and Annie's famous red frock.
Despite some wobbles, the sun does indeed shine on Broadway Palm's "Annie." There are laughs, orphans, a recalcitrant dog, a chrome-domed Daddy W and a fistful of glorious dance numbers. Look for Loete and McCleary as the dastardly Rooster and Lily, Horton as fashion-plate Grace and watch for the "Herbert Hoover" and "NYC" numbers in the first half.
Never act opposite children or animals. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.