Guest columnist: Karna Bergstrom
The Children’s Theatre Company’s production of the classic rags-to-riches musical, “Annie” is a treat for all ages that will have you smiling ear-to-ear and falling in love with the many characters played by just a few actors.
Going into this musical, I did have my “Annie” experience in the back of my head … that experience being watching the 1982 movie musical over and over and over again, like most girls my age. I’m not sure where that worn out VHS copy ended up but I still remember doing the choreography from “Hard Knock Life,” complete with throwing around a rag.
So how can a musical I loved growing up compare to one I see as an adult? The CTC cast had their work cut out for them and, in my eyes, they more than delivered.
It’s important to note that there are major differences between the stage musical and the film … but for someone who grew up on the film, the differences were a fun surprise — new songs to enjoy and a different ending to figure out.
Opening night, the role of Annie was in the capable hands of Megan Fischer, a young thespian who’s making her CTC debut after several local productions. From the first time you hear the orphan’s voice in “Maybe,” longing for her parents to come back for her at the New York City Orphanage, you know this story will be told with heart.
Fischer’s crisp, fresh voice makes you feel what Annie is feeling but also has you holding your breath as she holds those notes for ever-so-long.
The ensemble of orphans wrap you around their little fingers with singing and dancing that makes scrubbing floors look like so much fun. Their “caretaker,” if you can call her that, Miss Hannigan is the loud, boisterous personality I remember from the Carol Burnett movie-version, without all the alcohol. You have a love-hate relationship with the orphanage matriarch, played by CTC and Guthrie Theater veteran Angela Timberman. You love her for making you laugh as she flirts with anyone wearing pants but you hate her because you’re supposed to — because she hates “Little Girls.”
The actor who received the biggest reaction from the crowd? Sandy the Dog! This well-trained pooch appears in a few scenes and steals the show even if he’s got his back to you.
Of course there’s no rags-to-riches tale without the riches part. Enter Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks played by Lee Mark Nelson, who is also making his CTC debut with an impressive resume that includes Broadway and the Guthrie. He is assisted by Grace Farrell, played by Teri Parker-Brown, who is a familiar face to CTC and the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. Both become smitten with Annie right away, as well as the staff of the Warbucks Mansion.
A stand-out and audience favorite from the minute “she” opened her mouth was Mrs. Pugh, played by Dean Holt, who also plays many other characters throughout the musical. With stockings gathered at his ankles and an accent that makes just about anything sound funny, Holt’s portrayal had the audience giggling with every word. The same can be said for the slow-moving butler, Drake, played by Gerald Drake.
Naturally, the story doesn’t end like that. You’ve got to have your “bad guys” who are out for the money. Miss Hannigan’s brother, Rooster, and his hotel lover, Lily St. Regis, are over-the-top but they’re supposed to be. They’re definitely the PG-13 portion of the show with their free-wheeling lifestyle and hopes to make it to “Easy Street” on the coattails of Annie.
Most of us know how it ends — and in this case it’s with a loud chorus of “Tomorrow” complete with an appearance from President FDR.
Again, for those familiar with the film version, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with “new” songs like “We’d Like To Thank You, Herbert Hoover” and “N.Y.C.” performed by the great ensemble cast. At certain points during those two songs, there’s so much action on-stage, you’re sure to miss things.
Now this is the Children’s Theatre and the audience at this musical was more than 50 percent children. So what did they think of “Annie?” If the little girl sitting in front of me, on the edge of her seat, lifting her hands into the air at every songs’ crescendo was any indication, this production will be one they’ll always remember. And the one I won’t soon forget.
“Annie” opens Friday and runs through June 12. Tickets start at $20. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.