Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Annie' goes over big in Waupaca

Waupaca Community Theatre

WAUPACA, Wis. - “Annie” continues to be a popular musical. Waupaca Community Theatre taps into what the show has going for it in a production that’s continuing to Aug. 6 in the Waupaca Performing Arts Center of Waupaca High School.

This production is true community theater in a number of ways. It:

+ Calls for a large number of performers – around 80 actors and musicians. Add in all the support people behind the scenes, that’s community involvement for sure.

+ Is a challenge, a Mount Everest in a sense. Being a large and complex show, pulling off a productions has its rewards – like the waves of applause and cheers from a healthy-size crowd at the final curtain on opening night Saturday.

+ Features a child in the title role. The story has Annie at age 11, and Nevaeh Johnson is of that age. Normally, you pull for the kid to make it through the performance of her young lifetime. Nevaeh Johnson more than makes it through. She is one of the most consistent performers in this production.

+ Has memorable and catchy songs. Folks leave humming “Tomorrow” and “Easy Street” and “N.Y.C.”

+ Features more children in essential songs and scenes. There’s something that trips a trigger when girls playing orphans latch onto the rhythms of “It’s Hard-Knock Life” or they mischievously stand up to an authority figure gone wrong (Miss Hannigan).

+ Tells a wide-ranging story. This show is about being parent-less and about the Great Depression and about remaining optimistic when you are at the bottom of a pit. The lasting value of “Annie” is it about American gumption.

+ Has other meaningful touches through history and historical satire. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is a character, as are members of his cabinet. Roosevelt is a positive figure. His predecessor, Herbert Hoover, is the subject of ridicule in a clever, scathingly satirical song from people who blame him for their nose dive to homelessness and poverty.

Led by director Holly Saunders and musical director John Kelley, this company of “Annie” is having an adventure.

***

Creative: Book – Thomas Meehan; music – Charles Strouse; lyrics – Martin Charnin; director – Holly Saunders; music coordinator/conductor – John Kelley; assistant directore/choreographer – Linda Trepasso; rehearsal accompanist – Wanda Eikenbary; choreography for “Fully Dressed” – Emma Kelley; choreography for “Easy Street” – Skyler Erickson; costumes – Holly Saunders; set construction – Marcel Van Camp; scenic art design – Vanessa Bock; sign painting – Nancy Zabler; sound tech – Isaac Barden, Syndi Sondrol; lighting tech – Teagan Sanvig

Cast: Annie – Nevaeh Johnson; Oliver Warbucks – Tim Koll; Miss Hannigan – Amy Marcom; Rooster Hannigan – Steven Wilson; Lily St. Regis – Julie Foote; Grace Farrell – Pam Gusmer; Bundles McCloskey – Dave Larson; Lt. Ward – Jerry Hurst; Apple Seller – Lily Zabler; Dog Catcher – Pierce Reese-Grimm; Assistant Dog Catcher – Garrett Yohr; Sandy – Marvel, handled by Kelsey Leaf; Orphans – (Pepper) Kamaria Bessman, (Duffy) Karyn Morrissey, (July) Carissa Hoffland, (Tessie) Claire  Johnson (Kate) Serenity Steingraber, (Molly) Isabella Saunders, with Lainey Berrens, Rylynn Eskildsen, Natalie Hoffland, Gracieanna Liegl, Lilianna Liegl, Izzy Zoeller; Housekeeping – (Mrs. Pugh) Pam Lysne, (Mrs. Greer) Tammi Kenton, (Drake) Matthew Bonikowske, (Cecile) Kim Schield-Conradt, (Annette) Brianna Hagen; Hooverville – (Sophie, the Kettle) Donna Rickel, (Peggy) April Behnke, (Ira) Marshall Lysne, (Mary) Darcy Johnson, (Art) Dave Larson, (Eddie) Kerry Lee Blanke; N.YC. – (A Star-to-Be) Jessica Fletcher, (Usherette) Kayla Cain, (Kid) Rylynn Eskildsen; Radio City Rockettes – Ali Hansen, Grace Ellie, Kali Revai, Bailee Chelberg, Hanna Waller, Bella Udoni, Kiya Wanty, Maggie Stratton; Radio Scene – (Bert Healy) Chris Mentzel, (Fred McCracken) Jason St. James, (Jimmy Johnson) Isaac Baumgart, (Bonnie Boylan) Emma Kelley, (Connie Boylan) Kira Morrissey, (Ronnie Boylan) Lori Bauer; Cabinet – (Franklin D. Roosevelt) Marshall Lysne, (Harold Ickes) Greg Harvey, (Louis Howe) Rocky Landsverk, (Cordell Hull) Todd Klismet, (Henry Morganthau) Jeff Oestreich, (Francis Perkins) Tamara Jacquet; New Deal for Christmas – Justice Louis Brandeis (Kerry Lee Blanke); Chorus – April Behnke, Lori Blanke, Kayla Cain, Claire Jacquet, Tamara Jacquet, Darcy Johnson, Pierce Reese-Grimm, Shae Wright, Garrett Yohr, Lily Zabler, Kimberly Zanzarov

Orchestra: Conductor – John Kelly; flute – Ann Stevens; guitar and banjo – Mike Haessler; reeds – Anna Lussier, Davin Schwartz, Joann Kekula; trumpet – Paul Christensen, Robert Cheal; violin – Sarah Mueller; trombone – Marc Johnson, Jolynn Wucherer; cello – Steve Wucherer; keyboards – Wanda Eikenbary, Kari Schwartz; bass – Ray Kilanowski; drums – Eric Hendrickson; percussion – Joe McCausland

Running time: Two hours, 45 minutes

Remaining performances: 2 p.m. July 30, Aug. 6; 7 p.m. Aug. 3, 4, 5

Info: fineartsfestival.org

 

***

The story: Annie (Nevaeh Johnson), who doesn’t know her last name, is stuck in an orphanage in New York City. Lording over her and other rag-tag girls is Miss Hannigan (Amy Marcom), who is forever cross and bossy. Annie is searching for her parents, who left her on the doorstep of the orphanage 11 years ago in 1922. By chance, Annie is the orphan of choice to share time with super-rich Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks (Tim Koll) with supervision of his faithful secretary, Grace Farrell (Pam Gusmer). Warbucks’ nationwide search for Annie’s parents brings crooks out of the woodwork, notably Miss Hannigan’s brother, Rooster (Steven Wilson), and his tootsie, Lily St. Regis (Julie Foote). The story has lots and lots of color, along with jokes and references to famous names of the 1930s.

This and that from the production:

++ Setting it apart from many community theater musicals, this production features a live orchestra. That makes a big difference. Hearing the catchy and melodic music played by real people adds quality to the theatergoing experience.

++ The singers wear wireless headsets. That makes hearing easier, but sometimes what’s heard is rubbing on clothing. Mostly, it’s a plus.

++ There are as many takes on Oliver Warbucks as there have been Oliver Warbuckses. Tim Koll is of the kindly variety, sensitive even (versus a forceful mogul), and he has given up his head hair for the role as the bald character.

++ There are as many takes on what Miss Hannigan wears as there have been Miss Hannigans. Amy Marcom is of the dressier variety (versus being a frump) – and something of a clothes horse. Marcom puts a harder edge to the role, too.

++ The voice of Nevaeh Johnson is that of a girl-child of a certain age – distinctive in its highness and girlishness – and Nevaeh Johnson carries a tune well. She has rehearsed diligently.

++ Elements that are details in other productions slide by here – making Warbucks pay for his little curses, Miss Hannigan yanking the head off a doll, a backdrop for Hooverville. But this production has a detail that’s perhaps added: When Annie shakes hands with Roosevelt, it’s left hand to left hand.

++ Marshall Lysne is another of the community actors who get into playing Roosevelt, especially the singing. There must be something about the chance to play a revered president.

++ Dancing ranges from a mass of people on the hoof to kicky Radio City Rockets to the razzmatazz threesome in “Easy Street” by Miss Hannigan (Amy Marcom), Rooster (Steven Wilson) and Lily St. Regis (Julie Foote).

++ It’s always interesting to see how ’30s name references play or don’t play with contemporary audiences. Sampler: Babe Ruth, J. Edgar Hoover, Al Smith, automat, Harpo Marx. There were some trickles of recognition along the way.

++ This production uses drops for New York’s skyline and the Oval Office but otherwise relies on set pieces. One clever bit is a stacking system for the orphans’ beds.

++ Sandy, the dog, is “played” by sandy-colored Marvel, who responds to Annie’s call. That makes a little scene convincing. Marvel is a heart-tugger in that she no longer has use of her left eye (reminding me of one of my late, great dogs).

***

Musical selections

Act I

Overture

“Maybe” – Annie, Orphans

“It’s the Hard Knock Life” – Annie, Orphans

“It’s the Hard Knock Life” (Reprise) – Orphans

“Tomorrow” – Annie

“We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover” – Hooverville-ites

“Little Girls” – Miss Hannigan

“Little Girls” (Reprise) – Miss Hannigan

“I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” – Annie, Grace Farrell, Staff

“N.Y.C.” – Oliver Warbucks, Grace Farrell, Annie, Chorus

“N.Y.C.”(Reprise) Lullaby – Oliver Warbucks

“Easy Street” – Rooster, Miss Hannigan, Lily

“You Won’t Be an Orphan for Long” – Oliver Warbucks, Grace Farrell, Annie, Chorus

“Maybe” (Reprise) – Annie

Act II

“Maybe” (Reprise II) – Annie

“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” – Bert Healy, The Boylan Sisters

“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” (Reprise) – Orphans

“Easy Street” (Reprise) – Rooster, Miss Hannigan, Lily

“Tomorrow” (Cabinet Reprise) – Annie, Oliver Warbucks, F.D.R., Cabinet

“Tomorrow” (Cabinet Reprise II) – F.D.R., Cabinet

“Something Was Missing” – Oliver Warbucks

“Annie” – Grace Farrell, Drake, Staff

“I Don’t Need Anything But You” – Annie, Oliver Warbucks

“Maybe” (Reprise III) – Annie

“A New Deal for Christmas” – Annie, Oliver Warbucks, Grace Farrell, F.D.R., Staff

“Tomorrow” (Finale) – Company

***

THE VENUE: Waupaca High School was completed in 2000. Its auditorium/Performing Arts Center features a spacious aura, with a high ceiling and wide seating area for more than 600. The ceiling is an array of angled rectangles with tan wood rims around dark red (acoustical?) tiles. The walls are very geometrical in design – tan wood, with bricks of reds and gray. Textured gray cement block forms a slightly convex wall for the orchestra pit/stage front. The stage is wide and high with a large dark red curtain. The place looks built to impress.

 

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My new books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words),” are available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.


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