“ANNIE” Review by Robert W. McDowell


Broadway’s original Little Orphan Annie, Andrea McArdle, is the name above the title for North Carolina Theatre‘s current production of ANNIE; but the Raleigh, NC-based regional theater’s vivacious home-grown version of the 1977 hit musical has more, much more to recommend it to Triangle theatergoers desperately in need of a pick-me-up from the twin whammies of economic uncertainty and a summer heat wave of tsunami-like proportions.

Andrea McArdle stars as Miss Hannigan

Andrea McArdle, who is now 46 years old, sparkles as the odious Miss Hannigan, the child-hating mistress of the Girls’ Annex of the New York Municipal Orphanage. McArdle plays hard-drinking Aggie Hannigan with gusto, but also with remarkable restraint, eschewing the scenery-chewing excesses of many of her predecessors in this role. Moreover, on opening night last Saturday, she also contributed a brief, but heartfelt solo on the reprise of “Tomorrow” at the final curtain, much to the delight of the enthusiastic NCT patrons who were already standing and cheering at the top of their voices.

Robert Newman as "Daddy" Warbucks

Whereas Andrea McArdle devours her juicy role as Miss Hannigan, singing, dancing, and cutting the fool, former “Guiding Light” star Robert Newman is more limited in his nevertheless crowd-pleasing performance as crusty billionaire Republican munitions manufacturer Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Newman seemed a little nervous on Saturday night. He fumbled some of his lines and he turned Warbucks’ signature songs, “N.Y.C.” and “Something Was Missing,” into patter songs a la Rex Harrison in MY FAIR LADY.

English Bernhardt (Annie) with Mikey the Dog (Sandy). Photograph by Pam Shank

Talented 14-year-old Raleigh teen English Bernhardt is delightful as Annie, the plucky orphan who unthawed Warbucks’ cold, cold heart. Bernhardt’s robust renditions of “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” are high points of the evening; and her work with Mikey the Dog, trained by William Berloni Theatrical Animals, Inc., draws oh’s and ah’s from an appreciative audience that applauds the unusual poise and expressiveness of this “Sandy.”

North Carolina Theatre artistic director Casey Hushion and choreographer Vince Pesce’s staging of ANNIE is positively effervescent; but their splendid work with Bernhardt and the other veterans of the NCT Conservatory deserves special praise.

Katherine “KK” Fritsch as July, Kelsey Healy as Tessie, Payton Prince as Duffy, Alexa Robertson as Kate, Kelsey Walston as Pepper, and especially tiny but big-voiced Mary Kate Englehardt as Molly the littlest orphan deserve kudos; and Bernhardt and these six stars of the future combine with fellow orphans Allison CochraneGrace DeLoacheAvery HoerdemannHannah HoskinsMary Callan KelsoHayley LundbergAlexis van Venrooy, and Cady van Venrooy to turn “Hard-Knock Life” into a real show-stopper — not the frisky lighthearted romp usually seen, but an angry musical diatribe by orphans exploited as child labor, fed mush much of the time, and abused in so many ways by the system.

Joey Calveri and Dana Zihlman Harshaw combine with Andrea McArdle for a sassy stroll down “Easy Street” and tickle the audience’s funny-bone with their outrageous antics as Miss Hannigan’s bunco-artist brother, Rooster, and his dim-witted, oversexed partner in crime Lily St. Regis; Christy Morton is charming as Warbucks’ Gal Friday Grace Farrell; and Eric Michael Gillett is a delight as newly inaugurated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Brian Michael Hoffman amuses as orphanage laundryman Bundles McCloskey and FDR’s foul-mouthed Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes; Tom Treadwell andTerri Gervais make memorable cameo appearances as Warbucks’ unflappable butler Drake and resourceful jill-of-all-trades Mrs. Pugh; and Laurel Harris makes the most of her one shining moment as a Star to Be during the “N.Y.C.” production number.

Also contributing brief but memorable performances are Tim Caudle as roly-poly police Lt. Ward, FDR’s Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, and Justice Brandeis; Brian Norris as radio variety show host Bert Healy; and Jennifer Frankel, Laurel Harris, and Jennifer Swiderski as the beautiful blonde, gum-chewing Boylan Sisters.

Musical director Edward G. Robinson and the NCT orchestra make the musical gems in the ANNIE score sparkle; and the splendid scenery originally designed byKenneth Foy for Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars and built by Pittsburgh CLO’s Construction Center for the Arts and the striking costumes provided by Costume World Theatrical of Deerfield Beach, FL and created locally by costume designer Ann M. Bruskiewitz help make this production look as good as it sounds. All in all, North Carolina Theatre‘s is a fresh, new take on a familiar musical that deserves a look by children of all ages.

SECOND OPINION: July 21st Raleigh, NC NEWS & OBSERVER review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/07/27/598969/a-just-fine-serviceable-annie.html and July 18th preview: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/07/18/584403/we-got-annie-and-andrea-too.html.

The North Carolina Theatre presents ANNIEstarring Andrea McArdle as Miss Hannigan, at 8 p.m. July 27-30, 2 and 8 p.m. July 31, and 2 and 7 2 p.m. August 1 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $31-$76.


By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).

1 comment

  1. Pingback: Andrea Mcardle

Comments are closed.