The Ogunquit Playhouse Production Of
Is Great Fun At The Music Hall
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
The Ogunquit Playhouse has been closed down for the winter, but the season is not quite over. Ogunquit’s Executive Artistic Director Brad Kenney has joined forces with Patricia Lynch who is the Executive Director of The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to bring a lovely holiday gift to New England theatre goers. That gift is the superb production of the musical Annie playing at the Music Hall through December 22.
Directed and choreographed by Jamie Rocco, Annie is running on all cylinders on the stage of the magnificent Historic Theater in Portsmouth. Just stepping into this beautifully restored Victorian Era theater is a breathtaking experience. Even before the curtain goes up it is impossible not to be impressed by the surroundings. And once the orchestra starts playing the overture and the actors first take to the stage it all comes together for a wonderful night of theatre
Annie first appeared on Broadway in 1977 and has lost none of its charm over the years and through many revivals. The Ogunquit Playhouse version playing in Portsmouth has been freshened up a bit while retaining its original score and still brings smiles to the faces of the audience while tugging at the heartstrings.
ring that dream with a very lucky audience.
This production of Annie is flawless and rivals anything you will see on Broadway. It is a top notch production that should not be missed.
Josie Todd as Annie, the orphan who sets out to find her birth parents, is feisty and lovable. She leads the other orphans in great renditions of Maybe and It’s A Hard Knock Life and takes it to the top with Tomorrow. I would imagine this is a dream role for Ms Todd and she is sharing that dream with a very lucky audience.
The orphans at the Municipal Girls Orphanage run by Miss Hannigan are played by an ensemble of young actors who are excellently choreographed and get to really show their talents in the number You’re Never Really Dressed Without A Smile. Each and every one of them performed like experienced Broadway performers.
Robert Newman brings an Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks to the stage who shows the strength and drive that made him a billionaire while conveying the warm heart that is melted by his relationship with Annie. Mr. Newman’s version of Something Was Missing is touching and lovely.
I last saw Gail Bennett in the 2014 production of Mary Poppins at the Ogunquit Playhouse. In Annie she is cast as Grace Farrell the personal assistant of Oliver Warbucks. It was a pleasure to see her on the stage again.
The scene recreating a 1930’s radio broadcast where Oliver Warbucks takes to the air offering a reward to find the birth parents of Annie, it is filled with nostalgia. Kevin McMahon plays host Bert Healy wearing a straw hat and accompanied by a ventriloquist with a dummy, and a sound effects man (Trent Kidd) There is also an Andrews Sisters style singing group the Boylan Sisters (Karen Largerberg, Zina Ellis, and Kym Chambers Otto). The program revolves around the song You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile. It is all set in a recreated radio station. There is quite an enjoyable tap-dancing number performed by the sound effects man using wooden shoes on a table.
This wonderful cast has another member who is truly unforgettable; Sally Struthers reprising her role as Miss Hannigan. It is more than a bit ironic that Ms Struthers who has spent her life advocating for children would be playing a character who runs an orphanage as if it were a prison. In the number Little Girls she is very funny while displaying her dislike of the children by manipulating a doll in a rather sociopathic manner. It is a scene that was suggested by Ms Struthers and could only be pulled off by her.
Sally Struthers is a regular at the Ogunquit Playhouse every year and never disappoints. In her role as Miss Hannigan she outdoes herself. I’ve mentioned it before but must do so again in saying that she has a knack for comedic timing that is rarely seen. Her pauses and glances at the audience induce laughter every time. Ms Struthers also shows what a true professional she is by never attempting to steal scenes from the other actors. She works well with everyone. Of course, she is working with a cast that is deeply talented and all enhance one another.
Ms Struthers is at her character’s conniving best when plotting with her younger brother Rooster (Jeffry Denman) and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Angie Schworer). They are all wickedly funny.
What would Annie be without her dog Sandy who is played by rescue dog Macy. Macy comes close to stealing the show and captures the hearts of the audience with her beautiful eyes. She was an orphan in real life so it is only fitting she has a role in this play about orphans.
Set during the Great Depression the story has many references to figures of that era and includes a scene with Franklin D. Roosevelt (Doug Carfrae) and his cabinet joining Annie in singing Tomorrow. I’m not sure how many young audience members will be familiar with the names of these confidantes of FDR as well as the references to figures of the day such as Harpo Marx, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Bernard Baruch, Herbert Hoover, and Fiorello LaGuardia, but not knowing them takes nothing away from the enjoyment. Mr. Carfrae is returning to the Ogunquit Playhouse after an absence of a mere 46 years. He still has it!
In the spirit of the season the play closes with a beautiful Christmas party. This combined with the festive decorations in the theatre and then stepping out to the streets of Portsmouth to breath in the Christmas Season is a delightful experience.
This production of Annie is flawless and rivals anything you will see on Broadway. It is a top notch production that should not be missed. I highly recommend you take in a performance. It’s a wonderful coda to this year’s Ogunquit Playhouse season.
Many people give up on the coast of northern New England after summer, but by doing so they are missing out on a very beautiful time of the year.
Ogunquit Playhouse’s Annie at the Music Hall in Portsmouth is just the recipe for getting into the holiday spirit. You’ll leave the theatre filled with the Christmas Spirit that will have the biggest Scrooges smiling. Head north, see Annie, enjoy Portsmouth, and then continue on to Ogunquit and the many other places that put the joy in this time of the year. You’ll be glad you did.
Though December 22
The Music Hall at the Historic Theatre
28 Chestnut Street,