Everyone knows the story of Annie, the optimistic orphan who finds a home all her own, as told by Thomas Meehan. However, Harnett Regional Theatre has breathed new and charming life into this well-loved tale under the fanciful direction of Leanne Bernard and Rachel Strickland.
For those few not familiar with the story, it takes place in 1933 and focuses on a little girl, Annie (Ella John Dupree), who lives in a an orphanage warded over by the heartless, drunken Miss Hannigan (Amy Langdon). Annie is convinced that one day her parents will come back for her, and she hangs onto this hope, a hope she passes down to everyone she meets, to get her through the tough times.
Things start looking up for Annie when she is invited to spend Christmas with the wealthy Oliver Warbucks (John Dupree). Everything goes a bit askew from there, however, as Miss Hannigan’s brother, Rooster (Gene Chance) and his girlfriend Lily (Blair Chance) develop a plan to masquerade as Annie’s parents and steal her away from the only home she’s ever known- the home she’s made with Warbucks, his secretary Grace (Leanne Bernard), and the assorted members of the Warbucks staff.
While there are certainly many things to love about this heartwarming rendition of the story, perhaps one of the most charming things about HRT’s version is the fact that a real-life father/daughter duo was selected to play the roles of Annie and Oliver Warbucks, and their chemistry really shines through.
Young Ella John Dupree is a veritable spitfire in her rendering of Annie. She makes the character every bit as plucky and lovable as the script calls for and adds in pitch-perfect comedic timing and an understanding of the character that seems beyond her years. Likewise, John Dupree is utterly convincing and lovable as the hardened millionaire with a soft heart underneath it all. And, while the pair shares many a great moment onstage, their strongest and most winning moments come during the “Something Was Missing” song, in which Warbucks professes his love for Annie. Here, the pair’s real-life chemistry comes through and makes this already-adorable song all the more powerful and poignant.
While these two lead characters certainly do their share of shining onstage, the rest of the cast is equally strong. Bernard is wonderfully sweet and likeable as Grace while Langdon has just the right sour touch for the despicable Miss Hannigan.
And, of course, no production of Annie would be complete without a darling cast of “orphans,” and HRT might just have the most darling one yet! The orphans often steal the show, especially Lily Kate Dupree with her utterly adorable, always-funny portrayal of Molly, the youngest (and most precocious!) orphan.
While all of the orphans are (of course) endearing, they are made even more so by Joshua Keen’s skilled choreography. Keen’s dance numbers are excellent- well-timed and engaging- throughout, but his best work is evidenced in the orphan numbers, especially the indomitable “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” Keen makes full use of the HRT stage and has the orphans clambering around in a way that is believably childlike and well-executed. Other nice touches here include the intricately painted backdrops and the period-perfect costumes.
While Annie may be a show that has been done before, this version of Annie is truly something special.Heartfelt performances, detailed direction, and a healthy dose of community-theatre-charm all combine for a show that’s thoroughly engaging and lovable, much like Annie herself.
The Harnett Regional Theatre presents ANNIE at 2:30 p.m. April 30, 7:30 p.m. May 5 and 6, and 2:30 p.m. May 7 in Stewart Theater, 114 N. Wilson Ave., Dunn, North Carolina 28334.
TICKETS: $13.65, including fees.
Annie (1977 Broadway and 1978 West End musical): http://anniethemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000005 (Music Theatre International), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=1613 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Charles Strouse (music): http://www.charlesstrouse.com/ (official website), http://anniethemusical.com/popup.php?id=744&type=1 (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=12463 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Strouse (Wikipedia).
Martin Charnin (lyrics and original Broadway and 2014 tour director): http://anniethemusical.com/popup.php?id=745&type=1 (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7570 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Charnin (Wikipedia).
Thomas Meehan (book): http://anniethemusical.com/popup.php?id=746&type=1 (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8874 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Meehan_%28writer%29 (Wikipedia).