By Erika Brown Thomas
The unforgettable Little Orphan Annie, first written into existence by Harold Gray in comic book form, and endeared to audiences forever in the Broadway smash, Annie, continues to beguile audiences with her quest to find her forever family in the continuing story, Annie Warbucks (book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin).
This holiday season, Theatre at the Center brings back the whole gang of characters (with the exception of the heinous Hannigans)—the feisty orphans, President F.D.R. and Daddy Warbucks & Co. Read a full synopsis of the musical sequel here.
Emily Zimmerman is Annie. While her acting and dancing clearly mark her talent, it is Zimmerman’s voice that puts her in a class above the rest. Her impressive belting range moves high and higher with ease and flexibility. It is an absolute pleasure to watch this young lady take command of the stage.
Daddy Warbucks and Grace Farrell (David Girolmo and Elizabeth Telford) continue to skate an awkward berth around the idea of a possible romance, even when forced to confront marriage in order to salvage Annie’s newly adopted status. Girolmo and Telford play off one another as the chemistry between them sizzles, fizzles and churns into a real relationship.
Two new and repugnant, money-grubbing villainesses emerge from the rusty, dusty cogs of the New York City Department of Child Welfare, Commissioner Doyle (Iris Lieberman) and Mrs. Kelly (Heidi Kettenring). Their duet, “Leave It To The Girls,” rapidly raises the stakes from “simple” theft and fraud to grisly first-degree murder. It also brings down the house with hilarity and crisp choreography.
A group of four orphan girls (Grier Burke, Stella Hoyt, Lilly Bea Ireland and Rika Nishikawa) maintain a close relationship with Annie despite her being adopted and serve as wizened confidantes for her as she struggles to find her place. They also perform an inordinately creepy song, “The Other Woman,” that smacks of grotesque “daddy-issues” and outdated sexist lyrics that need to be kicked to the curb.
Other performances of note include Richard Marlatt as a convincing and uncontrived President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Reneisha Jenkins, Donterrio Johnson and McKenzie Franklin as the unassuming and loving Paterson Family. Jenkins opens Act Two with a number to satisfy the soul and continues to shine as a brilliant actor/singer throughout the remainder of the show.
An opulent set designed by Jack Magaw and exceptionally lit by Guy Rhodes provides a world where Annie roams free … all the way from the Warbucks Mansion in NYC to a small cabin in rural Tennessee.
And of course, no self-respecting Annie would ever appear without her scrappy hound, Sandy, a loveable and well trained dog (S’Wheats) who never fails to bring a vocalization from the audience as he trots across the stage.
Annie Warbucks at The Theatre at the Center is certainly a seasonal musical not to be missed.
Theatre at the Center presents “Annie Warbucks” through December 18 at 1040 Ridge Rd, Munster, Indiana. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Guy Rhodes.