Guaranteed to give you an instant earworm, Annie features some of the most recognized Broadway tunes in the history of musicals. Who hasn’t heard Annie’s signature solo, “Tomorrow“; and how many of you can sing at least a couple of lines from “It’s a Hard-Knock Life“? A musical this well-known is usually a bit tired and out-of-date, but not Annie. The North Carolina Theatre‘s July 23-28 production of Annie is relevant, nostalgic, strong, colorful, and downright ntertaining!
With a mix of professionals and cast members who are both Broadway and local stars, this version of the Tony Award” winner for Best Musical, powers itself up to show that you don’t have to sit in tight nosebleed seats in a New York theater to enjoy a great performance at an affordable price. Directed by North Carolina Theatre producing artistic director and Broadway veteran Eric Woodall, this musical is the last production of NCT’s 2018-19 season. Woodall stated in his opening comments to the audience that, the company is “doing this show just for the kids,” and that next season’s events would include such shows as West Side Story and Kinky Boots
The story of Annie, the plucky orphan determined to find her parents, is perfect for Alexa Lasanta, an already accomplished actress, even at her tender age. Her voice is flawless, her interactions with her fellow actors believable and polished, and her self-confidence gives her a shining quality.
But she’s not the only one in the cast who completely fills the stage with personality and talent. Some of her cast members are instant scene-stealers.
All of the orphans in the first scene are dynamic, funny, and talented. Each girl’s voice sang out in their “Hard-Knock Life” number, all were in sync in their dance numbers, and incredibly talented. But one of the orphans — the littlest one — particularly stood out. Emily Jewel Hoder danced and sang her little heart out as Molly. Hoder’s personality and energy are infectious. This girl is one to watch. If she’s got this much talent before she even reaches double-digits, she’s capable of being a child star of Shirley Temple proportions.
To compete with such a talented roster of kids, the adults had to bring their A-game, and they did.
The rousing “Easy Street,” performed by Miss Hannigan (played by Tony Award® winner Karen Ziemba), her brother Rooster (Nicolas Dromard, who recently played Ben in Mary Poppins at NCT), and his girlfriend Lily (played by Broadway vet Erica Mansfield) is a burlesque wonder of complicated choreography by James Gray and rowdy singing — and casting did a great job putting this trio together.
Karen Ziemba rolls her hips and gives a growl to her words that’s both humorous and strong. When she asks the orphan girls to tell her, “Miss Hannigan, I love you,” before heading off to bed at night, you understand that there’s a reason she has such a hard edge. She’s had the same hard-knock life that her young charges are experiencing.
The other big roles in this production belong to Oliver Warbucks (played by a swaggeringly handsome John Eric Parker) and his assistant, the thoughtful and lovely Grace (played by Broadway vet Manna Nichols). Parker’s voice is almost operatic when he sings “Something Was Missing,” during the second act. He’s dapper, thoughtful, and mesmerizingly powerful in this role, a sure sign of his Broadway experience.
Manna Nichols is a quiet and warm supporting character in this musical, but she does a transformation typical of a woman who lived during the years prior to World War II when this story is set. She gets the gown, the man, and an instant child; and she smiles through it all. She’s talented and beautiful, and I do hope we get to see her in another role where the spotlight shines firmly on her.
Every song is memorable, every character larger-than-life, and the story of children who’ve been forgotten by their families seems all the more poignant today. Certain lines in the script brought laughs or moans, though the politics of FDR’s era were so different from today’s. Those points of relevance are what make stories like this one (written originally in 1924) just as enjoyable now as it was 42 years ago (the musical started on Broadway in 1977).
Annie is far from tired. She’s alive and kicking and ready to give you an earworm at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium through Sunday, July 28th.
SECOND OPINION: July 23rd Raleigh, NC Spectrum News Central NC interview with actress Alexa Lasanta, conducted by Caroline Blair: https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/things-to-do/2019/07/23/nc-theatre-presents–annie–; July 17th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com interview with actress Carly Grissom, conducted by “Go Ask Mom” editor Sarah Lindenfeld Hall: https://www.wral.com/full-circle-nc-theatre-conservatory-student-launches-her-professional-career-in-next-week-s-production-of-annie/18509721/; July 10th Raleigh, NC WKIX 102.9 FM interview with actor John Eric Parker, conducted by Doug Austin: http://www.kix1029.com/2019/07/10/interview-john-eric-parker-from-annie/; July 7th Cary, NC RDU on Stage interview with actress Karen Ziemba, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/ep-27-tony-award-winner-karen-ziemba-talks-north-carolina-theatre-annie-a-chorus-line-and-more/; June 30th Raleigh, NC Walter Magazine preview by Catherine Currin: https://www.waltermagazine.com/art-and-culture/nct-annie/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 24th Triangle Review review by Melanie Simmons, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/07/the-north-carolina-theatres-rendition-of-annie-is-delightful-a-broadway-worthy-production/.)
The North Carolina Theatre presents ANNIE, starring Tony Award® winner Karen Ziemba as Miss Hannigan, at 7:30 p.m. July 25 and 26 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 27 and 28 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $23.46-$104.15, except $25 college-student tickets.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369155/2492450.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.
SHOW: https://nctheatre.com/shows/annie, https://www.facebook.com/events/298320487591414/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/annie-north-carolina-theatre.
2018-19 SEASON: https://nctheatre.com/show-season/201819-season.
NCT NEWS RELEASE: https://nctheatre.com/blog/nc-theatre-announces-cast-annie.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, July 27th, performance.
“Little Orphan Annie” (comic strip, 1924-2010): https://www.britannica.com/topic/Little-Orphan-Annie-American-comic-strip (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://www.stuartliss.com/loahp/ (The Official “Little Orphan Annie” Home Page) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Orphan_Annie (Wikipedia).
Harold Gray (cartoonist, 1894-1968): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harold-Gray (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/harold-gray-70186 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0336675/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Gray (Wikipedia).
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), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/annie-1613 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083564/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Charles Strouse (music, b. 1928): http://www.charlesstrouse.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/charles-strouse-12463 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0835190/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Strouse (Wikipedia).
Martin Charnin (lyrics and original Broadway and 2014 tour director, 1934-2019): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/martin-charnin-7570 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0153377/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Charnin (Wikipedia).
Thomas Meehan (book, 1929-2017): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/thomas-meehan-8874 (Internet Broadway Database) https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0576070/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Meehan_(writer) (Wikipedia).
Eric Woodall (director and NCT producing artistic director): https://nctheatre.com/page/about-nc-theatre (NCT bio: scroll down and click NC THEATRE STAFF), http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/46570 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/eric-woodall-90124 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0940106/ (Internet Movie Database).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.