THE BASICS: Performances Dec 18-23, 2023 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center – 646 Main Street, Buffalo 14202, 716-847-1410 | Click for tickets.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This is a national tourof the hit musical by Tony Award®-winners Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin. It’s a hard knock life for Annie and the other orphans of Depression Era New York City, under the patronage of the wretched and scheming Miss Hannigan at the Hudson Street Orphanage. One day, Annie’s life is changed forever when billionaire Daddy Warbucks invites an orphan to stay at his mansion for the Christmas holidays.
RUNTIME: 2 hours and 15 minutes, includes one intermission
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
There is a rich history to Annie. Little Orphant Annie was a 1885 poem written by James Whitcomb Riley. The poem was the basis for a silent film, a song, and a storybook. Then Annie became a comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, by Harold Gray in 1924. The comic strip inspired a radio show and two film adaptations. The musical opened on Broadway in 1977 and since has become a worldwide hit spawning many productions including two feature films and several TV versions.
This high paced touring production has been directed by Jenn Thompson who was in the original Broadway production as Pepper. Both Ms. Thompson’s direction and the choreography by Patricia Wilcox are first-class and the changes are refreshing. I always liked the buckets in “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” for example, but Ms. Wilcox’s broomsticks worked well, too.
Rainier (Rainey) Treviño and Georgie in the North American Tour of ANNIE. Georgie, who was adopted from an animal shelter, is a fine Sandy and an audience favorite. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
Rainer “Rainey” Trevino stars as Annie. Ms. Trevino is a bit too old for the role, and her acting is matter-of-fact, but she shines when she sings and her belt voice is clear as a bell. “Tomorrow” is stirring every time it is sung, and I’ll bet that I’m not the only one in the audience who got teary-eyed.
Christopher Swan co-stars as Daddy Warbucks. Mr. Swan is a good baritone and I enjoyed his second act duet with Annie. His performance was not as heartfelt as it could have been. Reading the bios in the program, I see that Mr. Swan has been on the road in this role for two years. Perhaps, at this point, it’s hard for him to get super excited about another out of town opening night.
Stefanie Londino as Miss Hannigan is another strong singer, but one would think, after two years as Miss Hannigan, she would have come up with more funny bits. She does let loose in “Easy Street” with Samantha Stevens and Jeffrey T. Kelly, but, throughout, this is a production where comedy has taken a back seat to the solid choreography and terrific vocal work.
The orphans get the curtain call spot after Miss Hannigan – right before Daddy Warbucks and Annie, and they deserve it. These little girls light up the stage every time they appear. Avery Hope is an appropriately tough Pepper, Jade Smith is an absolutely adorable powerhouse as Molly, Kylie Noelle Patterson nails all her laughs as Tessie (“oh my goodness!”), and Savannah Austin, Arianna Fuller, and Addie Jaymes are wonderful, too!
There is a small, young chorus that also does fabulous work, and they do such a good job that lesser songs like “We’d Like to Thank You” elicited the same amount of applause and cheers as “Tomorrow.” Kudos especially to chorus member Savannah Fisher as the Star to Be in the “NYC” number – she truly is a star to be!
Georgie, who was adopted from an animal shelter, is a fine Sandy and an audience favorite.
The orchestra is top notch, and so are all the visual elements — sets, lights, and costumes. I liked the new costume decisions – overalls on Pepper, Annie dresses in rainbow hues for the orphans’ curtain call. I did take exception to Annie’s end of the second act wig because she looked like a redheaded Shirley Temple and not like Little Orphan Annie.
This is a fun, satisfying touring production of Annie with first rate vocals and visuals. It’s a holiday outing that the whole family can enjoy!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!