This “Annie” Proves that Once is Simply Not Enough!

By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Reviewer

 

Annie (Kylee Hope Geraci) and Sandy (Sir Mac Allen Burch Esq.) in “Annie” now playing at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts through November 17. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

I suspect you’ve seen “Annie” at least once and hopefully it was a great experience. But that was maybe “back in the day”—possibly as far back as 1977 when it opened. I know because I saw it pre-Broadway that year, loved it, and thought that would do it for me. Later on, I saw it in regional and local productions which were nicely done and I got to hear those wonderful Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin songs again, but nothing ever measured up to the original production. Well, have I got great news for you!

Miss Hannigan (Sally Struthers), her criminal brother Rooster (PJ Freebourn), and his consort Lily St. Regis (Gabrielle Donadio) in “Annie” now playing at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts through November 17. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

“Annie” now playing at the Riverside Center for the Arts has regained its position as a first-class musical. “Why,” you may ask? Because it has a first-rate, A++ cast! Not only that, the seven-piece orchestra conducted by Carson Eubank supports this production perfectly and can stand on its own (and does in several joyous instances). Additionally, the heroic set by Frank Foster includes brilliant projections curated by director Patrick A’Hearn that indelibly stamp the era in your mind before the show even opens and appear occasionally during the show to great advantage.

Grace Farrell (Katie Little), Annie (Kylee Hope Geraci), Daddy Warbucks (Christopher Sanders), and members of the cast of “Annie” now playing at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts through November 17. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

This show in case you’ve forgotten won seven Tony awards, including best musical of 1977. Set in 1933, it’s the story of a spunky orphan in search of her parents. “Little Orphan Annie”, based on the Harold Gray comic strip, depicts an optimistic orphan’s belief in a better tomorrow. Our Annie is ever the optimist! And don’t we need more of those? Patrick went back to the 1977 book and vocal score (there have been many changes/additions over the years) to bring back the vitality of the original musical presented on Broadway.

Grace Farrell (Katie Little), Annie (Kylee Hope Geraci) and members of Warbucks’ staff in an impromptu celebratory kick line. “Annie” is now playing at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts through November 17. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

The amazing cast I just spoke about is led by the incomparable Sally Struthers (“All in the Family”), who plays Miss Hannigan, barking orders, singing up a storm, and dancing hilariously even while doing a drunk act that would fool anyone! She’s still got it, folks! But more than that (and I’ll get to the children in a second), the singer/actor chosen to portray Daddy Warbucks is the renowned bass/baritone Christopher Sanders! I believe (from his bio) that he has sung about every single role possible for a man to sing in the musical theatre canon, so he brings a lifetime of musical experience to this performance and you will hear that onstage! He IS Daddy Warbucks. And he plays him for real, not like a cartoon. Warbucks gives the impression of a man who has finally found the one thing he’s been missing all his life—Annie. When he envelopes her in his big arms (he’s 6’5”), opening his heart as well as his arms, there’s not a dry eye in the house.

Miss Hannigan (Sally Struthers) and the orphans of “Annie” now playing at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts through November 17. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Now, about the children cast in this show to tear up the joint and bring us to tears. Kylee Hope Geraci inhabits Annie and only pretends to be a child (just kidding Kylee!). She has done 19 roles, most in professional venues! She is simply brilliant in this role and I can’t wait to see more of her work. All the little girls (9 including Annie) are accomplished singers and dancers. In fact, when the entire ensemble gets together to sing, the blend is astonishingly beautiful!

The grand finale of “Annie” featuring the entire cast. “Annie” is now playing at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts through November 17. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Miss Hannigan’s criminal brother Rooster (PJ Freebourne) and his sexy consort Lily St. Regis (Gabrielle Donadio) nearly stop the show with their marvelous rendition of “Easy Street”! They are so evil and their dancing so brilliant, they DO stop the show in the reprise of “Easy Street” in the second act. Wait for it!!! Did I say that the choreography by Stephanie Wood is absolutely wonderful? Well, it is! This is a dance show as well as a musical. So many others in the cast deserve special mention, I just don’t have the space, but I must mention F.D.R. (Allan Hoffman) and Grace Farrell (Katie Little). These actors/singers bring such believability and warmth to their roles, you can’t take your eyes off them. And the costumes by Kyna Chilcot are fun and evocative of the era. But they are also spectacularly detailed when the need arises, such as the final scene when everyone dresses up for Christmas. Daddy Warbucks is in his white dinner jacket and what appears to be spats, Grace is in a slinky silk charmeuse number, and Annie is in a little red taffeta dress that evokes the iconic red and white dress of the comic strip in that cavernous, but now warm living room. Unforgettable!

What a show! It’s a knockout!

Performance and Ticket Information: Running time: approximately 3 hours with one intermission. “Annie” plays through November 17, 2019 at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300 or purchase them online at www.riversidedt.com.

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Sara Dudley Brown is the Theatre Editor of The Zebra Press. She graduated with a music degree in voice from Rollins College Conservatory of Music in Winter Park Florida. After several years of professional singing and acting (Disney World and The Kenley Theatres as well as voice-over and film here in the DMV area), trying and failing miserably at being Barbra Streisand (the post was already filled), Sara decided to take her lifelong love of music and the theatre to create a profession which would use everything she had learned theatrically and musically over the years—corporate event production and management. She began with department store events, working for the May Company putting on events in 18 stores, and went on to found her own corporate event management company. She recently retired after 30 years of mounting mega events internationally and domestically for some of the world’s top aviation manufacturers. Now Sara is once again using her years of theatrical work as well as her musical training to review Metro Area professional theatre productions for The Zebra Press. She thinks this is a much more sane way to live and never tires of the excitement of a theatre opening!

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