Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

National Tour
Review by David Ritchey

Lucy Werner, Garrett Deagon, and Lynn Anderson
Photo by Joan Marcus
Annie is back on tour again. The show opened on Broadway in 1977 and since then has toured and played regional theaters and schools, was turned into a movie, and has provided a good training ground for little girls who want to grow up to be Sarah Jessica Parker.

After I saw this tour during its recent stop in Cleveland, I wrestled with what was wrong with the production. The performance was slow and had an uncomfortable anxiety about it. Now, I've made the discovery of the problem. None of the photos in the publicity package included Heidi Gray, who played Annie. Gray has only recently taken over the leading role.

The cast (and surely the crew) were anxious about a new leading lady. On opening night, the other actors seemed constantly to watch Gray. Often a hand would be placed on her shoulder to guide her in a direction on the stage. The older (Gray is only 11 years old) and more experienced cast members wanted everything to go well—the songs, the dances and would the dog remember the new Annie?

Everything went well. But everything lacked that spontaneity and energy of an opening night. No one is to blame. The anxiety was normal and I assume everyone will settle in place in no time, and peace will surround the cast.

The highlights of Annie are the scenes with the villains—Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews), Rooster Hannigan (Garrett Deagon), and Lily (Lucy Werner). Andrews has more stage time and has a strong, belt 'em voice and plenty of dancing skills. Deagon has a big voice and limber dancing ability as Hannigan's brother Rooster. Werner is petite and perfect for the jazzy songs for Lily. She dances well enough to signal her parents didn't waste money on those dancing lessons. When the three are on stage together, it's glorious fun.

The children in the orphanage with Annie vary in performance skills. I wonder if a few most sessions with the director could solve some of the unevenness in their performances.

Chloe Tiso is a perfect Grace Farrell, beautiful and elegant. She could leave the Warbucks' mansion and become a power model. Oliver Warbucks is big—when he walks on the stage he blocks furniture and other actors. Yet, Gilgamesh Taggett makes Warbucks a kind, reasonable man. Both Tiso and Taggett sing and dance well.

Suzy Benzinger (costume designer) has dressed the orphans in appropriate, poor-child costumes. However, at the curtain call, they had clean, bright costumes that underscored the change that would take place with a happier financial market.

Beowulf Boritt (scenic designer) created large sets that move on and off the stage with ease. I was especially pleased with the large black-and-white photographs of New York City, which are the backdrops for the Hooverville scenes.

Annie offers no surprises or plot twists now. But we should enjoy the delicate, subtle changes in sets and costumes and enjoy comparing one production of Annie with others we have seen.

As always, the audience was filled with little girls who know Annie and the other orphan girls. Maybe they want to grow up to play Annie in a community theater.

This production of Annie was satisfying—not great, but comfortable.

Annie played at the Connor Palace in Cleveland's Playhouse Square, January 12 - 17, 2016. For more information on the tour, visit

Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin

Based on: "Little Orphan Annie"
Annie: Heidi Gray
Molly: Annabelle Wachtel
Pepper: Molly Rose Meredith
Duffy: Casey Watkins
July: Bridget Carly Marsh
Tessie: Sage Bentley
Kate: Emily Moreland
Miss Hannigan: Lynn Andrews
Bundles: Brian Cowing
Apple Seller: Jonathan Cobrda
Dog Catcher: Brendan Malafronte
Asst. Dog Catcher: Brian Cowing
Sandy: Macy / Sunny
Lt. Ward: Daniel Forest Sullivan
Eddie: Brendan Malafronte
Sophie the Kettle: Theresa Rowley
Grace Farrell: Chloe Tiso
Drake: Todd Fenstermaker
Mrs. Greer: Kelsey Shaw
Mrs. Pugh: Theresa Rowley
Cecile: Brianne Kennedy
Annette: Ruby Day
Oliver Warbucks: Gilgamesh Taggett
Star To Be: Ruby Day
Rooster Hannigan: Garrett Deagon
Lily: Lucy Werner
Bert Healy: Brendan Malafronte
Fred McCracken: Brian Cowing
Jimmy Johnson: Todd Fenstermaker
Buddy, the Sound Effects Man: Jonathan Cobrda
Bonnie Boyland: Kelly Shaw
Connie Boylan: Brianne Kennedy
Ronnie Boylan: Ruby Day
Harold Ickes: Jonathan Cobrda
Frances Perkins: Theresa Rowley
Cordell Hull: Daniel Forest Sullivan
F. D. R.: Jeffrey B. Duncan
Louis Howe: Brian Cowing
Judge Brandeis: Daniel Forest Sullivan
Ensemble: Jonathan Cobrda, Brian Cowing, Ruby Day, Todd Fenstermaker, Brianne Kennedy, Brendan Malafronte, Jake Mills, Theresa Rowley, Kelsey Shaw, Daniel Forest Sullivan
Music Director/ Keyboard: Kelly Ann Lambert
Associate Music Director/ Keyboard: John Yun
Keyboards: Jeffrey Campos
Woodwinds: Todd Barnhart, Erika Friedman, Kenny Advocat
Violin: Danielle Giulini
Cello: Nick Donatell
Trumpet: Craig Watson
Trombone: Craig Watson
Drums: Tom Bradford
Band Tech.: Arnold S. Gottlieb
Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Suzy Benzinger
Animals by: William Berloni
Music Director: Kelly Ann Lambert
Choreographer: Liza Gennaro
Director: Martin Charnin

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