Fine Arts Association Presents a Charming Annie for the Holidays

Fine Arts Association
Community Theatre

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

ANNIE is based on Harold Gray's popular comic strip Little Orphan Annie. The comic strip premiered in the 1920s in the New York Daily News and became one of the most widely read strips in the 30s and 40s. Lyricist-director Martin Charnin bought a coffee table book called “The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie” as a Christmas gift for a friend in 1970. The clerk at the bookstore was too busy to wrap the book, so Charnin took the book home to wrap it. Instead, he read it and fell in love with the strip, and set out to secure the rights, Christmas week of 1970. The friend never got the book.

Charnin championed the idea to colleagues Charles Strouse, a two-time Tony-winning composer, and Thomas Meehan, a short story writer for The New Yorker. It took a great deal of campaigning to get them interested, but the team was finally formed in 1971 when they began to write the musical.

Leapin’ Lizards!

The world’s best-loved musical returns in time-honored form. Featuring book and score by Tony Award®-winners Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, ANNIE includes such unforgettable songs as “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” plus the eternal anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow.”

In the depths of the 1930's, Annie (Makenna Hagan) is a fiery young orphan girl who must live in a miserable orphanage run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan (Emily Stack). Her seemingly hopeless situation changes dramatically when she is selected by Grace Farrell (Colette Siddle) to spend a short time at the residence of the wealthy industrialist, Oliver Warbucks (Dave Peck). Quickly, she charms the hearts of the household staff and even the seemingly cold-hearted Warbucks cannot help but learn to love this wonderful girl. He decides to help Annie find her long lost parents by offering a reward if they would come to him and prove their identity. However, Miss Hannigan, her evil brother, Rooster (J.J. Luster), and his female accomplice Lily St. Regis (Haley Gagnon) plan to impersonate those people to get the reward for themselves which put Annie in great danger. And we're off!

Hagan is wonderful as Annie. Her presence is engaging and makes the process of the audience fall in love with her effortless. She also has a strong commanding voice and handles her solos with depth, clarity, and clarion precision. She is a delight. She heads up a group of young orphans that are quite a lot to handle, but they handle us with wonderful characterizations, and charm oozing from every part of the orphanage. They ham it up with the best of them and create many laugh out loud moments. Those fabulous orphans are Emma Kovach-Uzi as Pepper, Haylie Kalina as Duffy, Noelle Molnar as July, Ella Gifford as Kate, Noni Arndt as Tessie, and Maddie Halapy as Molly. This troupe sings and dances with wild abandon and put a smile on every face in their path.

Peck presents quite a different quality to Warbucks that I haven't seen before, but I really liked it. Normally, Warbucks is gruff and self-centered by still in a comic book way, but what Peck does is actually make the billionaire very real. Warbucks seems colder than normal. But I think this works beautifully as an arc because it becomes even more of a journey for Warbucks to accept Annie and eventually want to adopt her. I loved this choice. He also sings with honest and pure depth. Great job.

Emily Stack is a hot mess of delightful fun as Miss Hannigan. Perfect casting. What a delight to watch her grumble, and wobble all over the stage and face off against the orphans. True delight. Also, her singing voice was totally on point in characterization, and comedic acumen. Now let's add two of her accomplishments in the scheme of the play to get Annie back to claim a reward. J.J. Luster and Haley Gagnon as Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis are the brilliant cherries on top of the already fabulous Hannigan. These two are on fire from the moment they enter. Both of these actors have brought a fresh approach to their roles. Luster feels like he stepped out of a gangster film after just having lunch with Al Capone. Gagnon is a tightly packed comedic car bomb that goes off in precision timing. When the two of them go to kiss, which thankfully happens more than once, Gagnon approaches Luster with machine gun precision using her "upper body" in a rapid-fire fashion that had me spitting out my soda. And when the two of them kiss, they really commit. So much so, their mouths remind me of throwing bread in a codfish pool and watch all the fish go after the bread. There is so much going on between these two, I wanted it to stop, but I really didn't. Pure comedic gold.

Then when the three of them get together and present "Easy Street", they literally blow the roof of the theatre. I was screaming in delight. And I can honestly say since I am older than a redwood, that this is the best "Easy Street” I have ever seen. The actors are on fire. And I need their resumes so I can direct them in the future. ha.

I have to mention that at the beginning of the show, the apple seller comes out. The moment I heard him speak, my attention peaked. his voice, acting, presentation immediately set him on a higher plane. It turns out that actor is Stephen Sandham. Now I know he comes from an esteemed theatrical family, but I didn't know that when he performed, but I wasn't surprised to learn that. This is such a great example for anyone auditioning. you may not get the role you wanted, but make the role you get as important to you as possible, and people will notice your dedication and execution, and not throwing away a smaller part. Plus, he sings and dances his face off.

The Cabinet scene is one of my favorites, and all did not disappoint. Steve Ingrassia as Ickes, Nick Grimsic as Howe, Paul Hagan as Hull, Jonathan Sweet as Morganthau, and the lovely Janice Troha as Perkins. I have to mention the essential Christopher Fortunato as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

The first role I ever had in a theatre was Bert Healy, and I am very happy to report I thought Paul Hagen did a great job, as did his crazy accomplices.

The rest of the cast was a wonderful balance of experience, which is the perfect blend for community theatre. They were enjoying themselves immensely, and that translates well to the audience. 

Production Team: Director Sandy Kosovich, Music Director David A. Thomas, Choreographer Jill Tschetter helm this wonderful holiday show. Technical Director Michael Roesch does a great job. Scenic Designer Dave Peck, Lighting Designer Nora Dlugo, Sound Designer Tom Linsenmeier, Costume Designer Colleen Bloom, Production Stage Manager Michael Richmond, Props Master Sandi Fink, Scenic Artist Maria Lister Lyons, Wigs by Winn Douglas, Set Painting Michael Richmond, Props Assistants David Fink & Nate Fink.

I had some observations: There were a few times where I felt some lead characters were upstaging themselves, especially when the Smudges come in towards the end. In the mansion scene, the staging could have opened up more on the sides, especially on the couch/tree side for sightlines. Having a scene change between the "Fully Dressed" song hurt the pacing a bit. Hannigan took a lot of sips from the flask. Annie's hair at the end seemed too big in some way, more of a Lana Turner style, which causes her face to be blocked when she was sideways.

All Photos: Prelude Photography

Kosovich has cast well, thus putting together a very fun evening of characters to entertain the masses. Overall, the show moves well and delights the audience.  Thomas led a great pit, and the sound was well balanced and played. I always feel sorry for the opening trumpet solo, because it’s just you all alone, but that was nailed. Tschetter did a great job providing movement for this crew. There are different levels of dancing experience, and I thought she did a great job of giving people what they could do, and then she had this core group of 6 or so that could really bust out some more intricate movement. Well Done.

This is a great show. I have to say Annie is my favorite musical, probably because it was my first musical ever.
I would come to see this again!
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

November 23 - December 16

7:30pm Fridays
2pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays (Sign interpreted performance 12/16)

$15-$25 Reserved Seating

(440) 951-7500

Fine Arts Association
38660 Mentor Ave.
Willoughby OH 44094