An eclectic group of young girls opens the season for Musical Theatre West as it presents “Annie” at the Carpenter Center.
The classic story follows orphan Annie’s (Melody Hollis) journey to find her parents while having to deal with the drunken Miss Hannigan’s (Andrea McArdle) evil schemes. As luck would have it, Annie is invited to live with Oliver Warbucks (Jeff Austin), a rich, yet somewhat cold-hearted man, who Annie hopes to win over with her girlish charm.
McArdle, who is Broadway’s original Annie, does a fine job playing the counter-character to her original childhood role. As she stumbles across the stage while saying drunken slurs, she is a comic delight, whom the audience can’t help to adore despite her evil ways.
McArdle’s alto voice in “Little Girls” resonates throughout the entire 1,070-seat theatre. With powerful vocals, as well as an impressive range, she does not miss a beat throughout her entire performance. However, her comedic timing does seem to be a little off since she does not permit the audience enough time to laugh at a punchline before she begins speaking again.
At the age of 12, Hollis’ portrayal of Annie seems a bit too grown up, even for the character’s already-mature nature. However, she does a nice job at winning the hearts of the audience. Her dedication and care toward the other orphan girls is obvious and the chemistry she creates with them is marvelous, particularly between her and Molly (Grace Kaufman), the youngest of the ensemble. The bond between the two is quite heart-touching as they appear more like sisters instead of roommates.
Hollis’ voice, though youthful, resonates the maturity of an adult’s. She possesses a loud, powerful voice that is necessary for the famous “Tomorrow” number. However, she also shows it off in “Maybe,” which is supposed to be softer, yet her touch of belts almost adds too much punch to the song.
Austin is welcomed warmly as Warbucks. He does an excellent job at capturing the man’s cold-hearted spirit and later showing his true kind and loving nature.
Though he possesses a strong and loud voice throughout his performance, his rendition of “Something Was Missing” is truly touching and almost tear-worthy. Through his portrayal, it is clear that his care for Annie is genuine, making his performance strong.
Despite the well-done acting from the main characters, a special mention should be said about Mark Capri, whose representation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt is outstanding. His lines are laugh-out-loud hysterical and his accent is spot-on, making him an easy show-stealer.
In addition, the ensemble of little orphan girls is a delight. The group has great chemistry, which adds to their youthful talent. Each of the girls stands out in her own way and when they come together as a group to sing “Hard Knock Life,” for example, they are absolutely delightful.
MTW proves they are more-than-average when it comes to designing costumes and sets.
Each character has a unique look. The little girls are clad in rags, while Warbucks and his assistant, Grace (Shannon Warne), are brightly-dressed in rich-looking garments. Annie’s signature red dress is well-made and her curly locks are adorable.
As well, the set design is noteworthy. From scene to scene, MTW does a fine job of utilizing the good amount of stage space that they are allotted. The orphanage, for example, is realistic-looking, as it appears unkempt and a tad bit gloomy-looking. Warbucks’ mansion is a sight to see, complete with a full staircase, Christmas tree and falling snow that can be seen from behind the main window.
Overall, MTW proves once again that good theater isn’t only existent in New York; it can be anywhere — even Long Beach.
“Annie” runs at the Carpenter Center until Nov. 14 with varying showtimes. Tickets start at $30. For more information, visit musical.org.