This review of the musical Annie performed at the Cultural Arts Playhouse was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and was published in Volume X, Issue 2 (2012) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Cultural Arts Playhouse (625 Old Country Road, Plainview, NY)
Annie is a musical based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip Little Ophan Annie, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan. The original Broadway production opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. Annie became such a worldwide success that it is likely you know the story and will recognize most, if not all, of the musical numbers. It will be hard to restrain yourself because you will feel the urge to sing along with "Hard Knock Life", "Tomorrow", "Easy Street" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile". You will also be pleased with the ensemble numbers "N.Y.C." and "Hooverville (We'd Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover)".
On the night I saw this production of Annie, there were a number of exceptional actors who were able to put a smile on my face.
The standout performer was Mel Newman, who played Miss Hannigan, the alcoholic orphanage matron who hates "Little Girls". I found her portrayal of the character to be very realistic. Ms. Newman is a fine actor with a great singing voice. Alyson Rogers, who is pretty and talented, excelled as Grace Farrell, Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks' faithful Secretary. Paul Lichtman provided comic relief as Drake, the butler in the Warbucks Mansion.
Emily Gothelf played Annie and Mike Newman (with hair) played Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. Both were fine in their roles but I just don't get why this street smart, needy eleven year old somehow was able to "melt the heart" of a billionaire businessman. What exactly does he see in this girl? She's not particularly bright. She's needy and demanding. Yet "Daddy" Warbucks somehow decides after only one week that he wants to adopt her as his daughter. If "Something Was Missing" from his life, it would be more believable if he fell for Grace Farrell, his Secretary, who he finally began to notice on Christmas Eve. There are also so many other problems with the story. Are we really to believe the F.B.I. somehow found the identity of Annie's parents based on an analysis of the handwriting in the letter they left her? I know I shouldn't look into things too deeply but in light of President Obama's trillion dollar stimulus plan to help lift the country out of its current economic slump, it is hard not to recognize how political this musical is, blaming President Herbert Hoover for the depression ("Hooverville (We'd Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover)") and lauding President Franklin D. Roosevelt for coming up with the New Deal ("New Deal For Christmas").
There were some minor problems with this production. The static we heard during the radio broadcasts was too prominent, there was talking backstage that distracted me, and some of the actors misspoke their lines.
The program still lists all the actors playing the roles during the run of the musical so without a cast board, outsiders (people who are not family and friends of cast members) coming to the play have no idea who is performing unless they specifically ask. Also, while the program says "Refreshments can be purchased at intermission. Enjoy!", I was unable to buy anything to refresh myself. No coffee, no tea, no cold drinks. The Keurig machine they had was gone (I was told it broke) and all that was available was room temperature bottled water. It was suggested to me I should buy the warm bottled water, pour it out and then fill the bottle at the water fountain so I could bring it into the theater. I declined the offer.
I also had a problem with my reservation. I had reserved online for one person using a credit card. When I arrived at the theater to pay, I was down for two. The person checking me in had problems finding my name since, unlike in the past, he had a master list of people reserving for many performances. The rule is that if you reserve your tickets in advance, you will be called into the theater in the order in which you reserved. However, the person in front of me online reserved for one and was allowed to increase their reservation to include a number of other people with different last names and was permitted to cut to the front of the line when it came to seating. I didn't say anything but when the reserved were finally called in, I stood by while almost everyone was called in ahead of me. When I asked, "what about me", the caller could not find my name on the list and just said, "I checked you in. Go ahead." This is not the degree of professionalism I expect when I go to see a play. The prior two times I attended performances here, there was no problem. But someone needs to get on top of this so it doesn't happen again.
Theatrical Magic & Concepts (Tom McKenna) did a wonderful job with the Set Design. Leonidis Marmann was an attractive "stray dog" who visited me during the musical to say hello. His real life master, Michael Marmann, has charisma and did well in his various roles.
Annie is playing at the Cultural Arts Playhouse through February 26, 2012. If you go, I guarantee you will enjoy your evening and feel the value obtained was well worth the $20.00 you will be charged for the experience. To purchase your tickets, call 516-694-3330 or visit their website at http://www.culturalartsplayhouse.com/