Entertainment » Theatre


by Bobby McGuire
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 29, 2017
Cassidy Pry and Christopher Sieber in Paper Mill's "Annie"
Cassidy Pry and Christopher Sieber in Paper Mill's "Annie"  (Source:Evan Zimmerman)

You can't keep a good girl down. After three mediocre to disastrous screen adaptations and a pair of serviceable Broadway revivals, "Annie," that ever-popular ode to optimism is back in a top shelf, no-gimmick production playing at Paper Mill Playhouse that fulfills the show's original (yet subsequently oft broken) promise of being the show kids will love to take their parents to.

Much of the unsung success of this ultimately singable musical should be attributed to its first rate book by Thomas Meehan. Set at the height of the Great Depression, 11-year-old Annie escapes her orphanage in search of the mother and father who left her as a foundling with a promise to return. Good luck lands Annie a two-week holiday with billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who (in an odd plot device), takes in an orphan every year for Christmas, and then presumably returns them.

Only this time, Annie's charm makes the deal for keeps. Jealously and greed enter the picture in the form of Annie's former orphanage mistress Miss Hannigan, who attempts to derail the deal. President Roosevelt intervenes, and Annie and her former fellow orphans celebrate Christmas in style.

Directed with barely a modicum of preciousness by Paper Mill's producing artistic director Mark S. Hoebee, this "Annie" seems confident that its younger audience members will have already walked in fans of the show and its unforgettable score by Charles Strouse. Free from pandering to a crowd looking for "cute," Hoebee puts his storytelling focus Meehan's historical reference-heavy book and broadly-drawn comic strip characters.

Beth Leavel  

All of this works beautifully on stage when the funny page folk are fleshed out by a pair of Broadway's most prodigious character actors, Christopher Sieber and Beth Leavel. The result is an evening that is genuinely as fun for the adults as it is for the tots.

Using a voice that's somewhere between mumble and Dick Cheney-like grumble, Sieber embodies Daddy Warbucks with a charming comic curmudgeonly demeanor. Landing every joke penned by Meehan and lyricist Charnin, Sieber is a delight to watch as he ultimately melts under Annie's charms.

In the role that most actresses make a meal out of, Leavel seems to be having an all-you-can-drink brunch with Miss Hannigan. Loud, cruel, clueless to her own nastiness and lack of sex appeal, Leavel delivers a performance for the history books here that is every bit as funny as that of the role's originator, Dorothy Loudon and the first film version's saving grace, Carol Burnett.

Similarly, the juvenile cast of orphans are also spot-on, and thankfully delivered the material with era-appropriate "Little Rascals" realness rather than the "Toddlers in Tiaras" fare that has all too often plagued this show.

As Annie, young leading lady Cassidy Pry offers strong pipes and a plucky demeanor. And while her comic chops are not on par with her adult cohorts, she injects the role with the requisite balance of wide-eyed optimism and real world honesty.

"Annie"'s brand of optimism was welcome medicine when it debuted in 1977. The country was crawling out of a recession and New York City was in the midst of its darkest days. Forty years later, in Trump's America, the timing couldn't be better for this smart production. The sun may not come out today, but.....

"Annie" runs through December 31 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ. For tickets and information, visit www.papermill.org


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