In a Director’s Viewpoint: Theater Works’ “Annie Jr.”

 

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A scene from Annie Jr. at Theater Works in Peoria, Ariz. (Photo credit: John Groseclose)

Reviewed and written by Jay Horne

Production History

Annie is a Broadway musical based on the popular Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.” The show had its world premiere off-Broadway on August 10, 1976, at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. Interestingly, the original actress Kristen Heard’s interpretation of the tough, street-smart orphan was deemed too sweet and she was thus replaced by Andrea McArdle who carried the show through Broadway. The original Broadway production opened at the Alvin Theatre on April 21, 1977. It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards (and won seven), including Best Musical and Best Score. The show closed on January 2, 1983, after a total of 2,377 performances, and was performed internationally, eventually going on to win even more awards including the Laurence Olivier and Drama Desk Awards.

Theatre Review

For those who have never seen this timeless classic, the story takes place during the Great Depression in 1930s America and follows Little Orphan Annie on her quest to find her parents after being left in an orphanage run by the undisciplined and over the top Miss Hannigan.

Along the way, she meets and is taken in by the very rich Oliver Warbucks and his kind-hearted secretary Grace, encounters the loveable mutt who she names Sandy, and learns what “family” truly means. Being a musical, Annie Jr has some beautiful classics that carry the story. From Annie belting out “Tomorrow” to “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” sung by the Orphans, audiences have been charmed by the music of Annie for over 40 years. It’s a story of family, adventure, and what it means to do what’s right. Of course, I leave the rest to future audiences to be delighted and moved by.

This modern performance was done by Theater Works’ outstanding Youth Works group. Of course, with such a young cast, you can expect some glitches as they learn the art of theater. At times, many voices were hard to understand and hear, the young ones not having truly mastered the art of projection just yet. This could have been corrected by using more mics on those characters that had many lines, or even an overhead microphone system.

Aside from that, this cast was superbly directed by Brenda Goodenberger, an AriZoni winning director. This statement carries quite a bit of weight as judged by my 41 years involved with professional, repertory and community theatre, as a performer, director, tech, etc., I have never seen a cast of 55 youngsters! There are many youth theatre groups in the greater Phoenix area, but few can match consistently the productions Theater Works puts on each show, as supported by this particular production.

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The cast of Annie Jr. at Theater Works. (Photo credit: John Groseclose)

The entire cast — from the leads to the back-ups and the supporting roles — all performed in perfect sync. It was a joy to see them all perform so well. On the evening I went it was a sold-out audience of all ages, and the crowd seemed to feel as I did. Thunderous applause was waiting at the end of each scene, and the conclusion was met with an instant standing ovation. My grandson, Todd, who was with me as my guest, also commented that he felt “it was a beautiful, well done production.” Like most Theater Works’ youth productions, it was well worth the trip and not to be missed.

Interestingly enough, the show ran as one Act, 11 Scenes, with no intermission. If I recall correctly, when I saw Annie at the Goodspeed Opera house in Hadam, CT and Chicago, IL, Annie was done in two separate Acts — so I found the Theater Works set up to be an unusual occurrence.

As for the technical aspects, the set design was brilliantly done by Brett Aiken, and as usual Aiken gives us a realistic, workable set — from the limo car, the orphanage, and particularly the Warbucks Mansion. In addition, Elizabeth Peterson brought the characters to life with her impressive costuming straight out of the 1930s, and Alexia Lorch wove the musical numbers together with delightful choreography.

As usual, I would like to acknowledge some of those that contributed to this most entertaining show — though it’s hard to list very many due to the size of the cast.

Ellie Kunnari — Annie: You did the original Andrea McArdle proud, excellent character and voice.

Mia Horley — Mollie; Kendra Goodenberger — Pepper; Callister and Walker — Duffy: You all performed very well in all aspects.

Abigail Prusinski — Grace Farrell: Most entertaining performance.

Morgan Golberg — Miss Hannigan: A Most hilarious, professional performance from characterization to vocalization.

Josh Pike — Rooster Hannigan Great character, loved your “Easy Street” number. A true character performance.

J.R. Momeyer —Oliver Warbucks: Welcome to Theater Works, a very believable performance.

Charlee Shaver —Sandy:  For your first show, you were an adorable Sandy.

Jayden Rodriguez — Bert Healy’s Girl / Servant: Good job, your mom loves you very much.

Brenda Goodenberger — Director: Congratulations on bringing the show to it’s fruitful completion.

Brett Aiken — Set Design: Another superb design, my friend.

Elizabeth Peterson — Costume Design: Very believable 1930s costuming — good job.

Alexia Lorch — Choreography: A well done job.

In a Director’s Viewpoint, Theater Works’ Youth Works’ production of Annie Jr was a very well done, professional performance. I highly recommend this show for all ages, particularly youngsters. 

In closing, I say, “Good night, Vivian. My Love.”

-Jay
Jay Horne Headshot

REVIEWED: Friday, November 10, 2017

WHEN: Now through Sunday, November 19, 2017

WHERE: Theater Works at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 10580 North 83rd Dr., Peoria, AZ 85345

ADMISSION: $16-$38

DETAILS/TICKET RESERVATIONS: For information, call the box office at 623-815-7930 or visit TheaterWorks.org.