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The Huntington Bank Featured Performance of ‘Annie’ is true to life




It is unfortunate that most productions of the wildly popular musical “Annie” have a tendency to turn it into a comic strip rather than a Broadway show. The actors seem to take on cartoonist proportions complete with wigs and wildly colorful frocks. That was the case until this past Tuesday when the Huntington Bank featured performance of “Annie” landed at Playhouse Square. Here at last is a faithful telling of the 1924 comic strip classic turned 1977 Broadway show turned 1982 movie.


The original 1924 comic strip by Harold Gray was inspired by a poem “Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley. For the Broadway version, Thomas Meehan came up with the book with the music supplied by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. The original 1977 Broadway production ran for nearly six years (a record for the Alvin Theatre on Broadway) winning seven Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show has it all. Orphans, rich people, The Great Depression, FDR, nasty crooks and even a dog. How can you go wrong?


It’s 1933 in New York City and eleven-year-old Annie lives in an orphanage with a bevy of girls her own age. Six year old Molly (Jade Smith) wakes up from a bad dream and Annie (Rainier (Rainy) Trevino) comforts her by singing about her parents who she knows will one day return to claim her. That morning, Annie once again tries to escapes the clutches of the orphanage’s matron, Miss Hannigan (Stephanie Londino) but is caught. Annie and the other orphans are forced to clean the floors and strip the beds. When the laundry man, Bundles McCloskey (Chance K. Ingalls) comes to collect the dirty laundry, Annie escapes ending on the streets of New York City.


While wandering around, Annie is given an apple by a kindly young man (Ryan Muvaney) and also runs into a friendly stray dog that she names Sandy (Seamus). Looking for her parents, Annie enters a Hooverville under the 53rd Street Bridge. It is inhabited by a homeless band of folks (including the apple peddler) who sing their disgust with the former president (Hoover) with whom the town is named after. Suddenly, the town is broken apart by the police and Annie is captured and brought back to the orphanage. Before Miss Hannigan can punish her they receive a visit from Grace Farrell (Julia Nicole Hunter), assistant to billionaire Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks (Christopher Swan). Grace explains that they wish to temporarily “adopt” an orphan for two weeks over the Christmas holidays. Annie manages to catch Grace’s eye and she chooses the red haired waif.


At the mansion, everyone falls in love with Annie, except for the returning Warbucks who was expecting a boy but Annie soon wins his heart as well. They decide to walk the 45 blocks to the Roxie Theater to see a movie as it will give Warbucks a chance to show off “his city”. The too busy day is too much for Annie as she falls asleep in Warbuck’s arms who carries her back to the mansion.


Within the week, it is decided that Warbucks will adopt Annie after all and Grace pays a visit on Miss Hannigan who becomes enraged at the thought of a child under her care would strike it rich. When Hannigan’s crooked brother Rooster (Jeffrey T. Kelly) and his girlfriend Lily (Samantha Stevens) drop by in hopes of a handout they instead hatch a scheme to pose as the long lost parents taking the child (who will mysteriously disappear) and an offered $50,000 reward that has been put up by Warbucks.


Meanwhile at the mansion, Daddy Warbucks has gone to Tiffany’s and purchased an expensive locket to replace the broken one around Annie’s neck not knowing that it had been given to her as a baby by her parents as proof of their return. When Annie begins to cry at the thought of giving up the locket, Warbucks pledges to find her parents utilizing President Franklin Delino Roosevelt as well as the FBI.


So what makes this production so great? First of all it is a great show for parents and children alike as was evident with the generous sprinkling of youngsters in the opening night audience. Booster seats were in high demand. Secondly, they decided to pull this off as a lavish Broadway production rather than a live cartoon. This meant real hairstyles, real period clothing and real acting.


The ten piece orchestra played no less than 17 instruments total and all of them very well. The stage was superbly lit based on the original lighting design by Philip S. Rosenberg. The cavernous sound system of the Connor Palace Theatre was tamed by Ken Travis. Wilson Chin was in charge of the scenic design that spanned the length of an orphanage, a Hooverville under a bridge, Miss Hannigan’s office, various street scenes in New York City in 1933, FDR’s headquarters and the spacious Warbucks Mansion all moving into place in perfect unison. The period costumes (and there were a ton) were under the care of Alejo Vietti with each one a perfect match for the period. Hair and Wig design went to Ashley Rae Smedal.


As for the actors, they were right on cue. First you fall in love with Jade Smith as the orphan Molly, then the rest of the rag tags tear at your heart strings. Rainier (Rainy) Trevino IS Annie and she plays it straight and true. You really relate to her life and street smarts. The “baddies” of Stefanie Londino as Miss Hannigan, Jeffrey T. Kelly as Rooster and Samantha Stevens as Lily are appropriately despicable. Julia Nicole Hunter as Grace has everyone rooting for her romancing Warbucks (spoiler alert: we are not disappointed) and the man himself, Christopher Swam as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks is gruff on the outside but has a heart of gold that shines through. Lastly, there is Seamus as Sandy the stray dog (who has his own stand in, Kevin). Seamus got the loudest of all cheers at curtain call.


The one shame of this production is that it will only be on stage through Sunday, March 24, 2024 so you will really have to rush in order to procure a ticket. Believe me, it will be worth the effort. Bring a little March theater sunshine to your Cleveland gray skies. You will be the better for it...Maybe!


The Hunting Bank Featured Performance of “Annie” will be on stage at the Connor Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio through Sunday, March 24, 2024. For tickets go to https://www.playhousesquare.org/ or call (216) 241-6000.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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