Surely everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last ninety years knows the story of poor Little Orphan Annie, and later generations have been inundated by stage and screen adaptations of the musical version. But for those who are not up on their pop culture, Annie is an orphan who still, after eleven years, believes her parents will come back any day to fetch her from the New York City orphanage where they dropped her off on New Year’s Eve, 1922. But things are looking grim for our heroine, especially since the woman running the institution, Agatha Hannigan, is a bitter, drunken, hateful woman who resents Annie, seemingly for no reason other than she is loved and respected by most of the other children.
But into the seemingly hopeless situation walks Grace Farrel, personal secretary for the world’s richest man, Oliver Warbucks. It seems the tycoon plans to give a random foundling two weeks of living in the lap of luxury over the holidays before dumping her back among the rabble. But the driven businessman doesn’t count on falling for the terminally upbeat young lady who appears at his door.
This is the story being told, and told well, by The Theatre at Marietta College under the direction of Aurora Held-Dodd. At the center of the production is a young woman who seems to have been born to play the part of the precocious redhead, Lyanna Smith. Ms. Smith embodies the maturity mixed with youthful naivete that is the hallmark of the titular orphan. Along with strong acting, she has the vocal chops to carry the show, which is exactly what she must do, as she has many scenes in which she is either singing solo or is the lead.
Mitch Mazaher as Daddy Warbucks also strikes all the right emotional chords with his portrayal of a tough businessman who has lived his entire life climbing over his rivals to the top and is not accustomed to the tender feelings this spunky little waif has engendered in him. Though his voice is not as powerful as the other leads, he more than holds his own, especially in his feature number, “NYC.”
Giving probably the most polished performance of the entire cast is Sadie Johnson as Grace Farrel. Her voice rings out loudly and beautifully and Ms. Johnson is smooth and believable as the efficient but soft-hearted personal assistant who seems to have a not-so-secret crush on her boss.
Among the smaller parts, Cole Mazaher’s Rooster and Maggie Jones’ Lilly St. Regis were delightful. Mazaher’s con-man, Miss Hannigan’s ne’er-do-well brother, is fresh out of prison and looking for another swindle. And Jones’ character is a blonde embodiment of Betty Boop.
No discussion of the show would be complete without mention of the ensemble, many of whom played multiple parts, and, most especially, of the orphans. The children, some quite young, were disciplined and practiced. Their scenes were always beautifully rendered. The younger children almost never needed guidance from their elders and when they did, it was handled smoothly and subtly.
All in all, this was a fun production, well worth the price of admission. But don’t wait to buy your tickets. At least the first showing on April 6 is already sold out. There are subsequent performances on April 7 at 1:00pm and 7pm and April 8 at 1:00pm. Finally, there is a single performance at People’s Bank Theatre on April 14 at 7:00pm. Contact the school or the People’s Bank Theatre for tickets.