With its uplifting story, exuberant score and likable characters, “Annie” has earned its place as one of the most famous Broadway musicals. The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport is currently showing the heart-warming tale of hope and optimism.
Based on the old comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” the musical follows the adventures of the titular energetic red-haired orphan Annie, portrayed by Presley Ryan, as she searches for her parents and is fortuitously adopted by mutli-billionaire Oliver Warbucks, played by George Dvorsky. Annie is able to use her cheerful and optimistic attitude toward life to cure Warbucks of his depressed capitalistic tendencies and capture the heart of the nation during the crushing Great Depression. Meanwhile, she has to contend with the head of the orphanage Miss Hannigan, played by Lynn Andrews, who formulates a money-making scheme with her brother in order to steal the award Warbucks is offering for the couple who proves they are Annie’s parents.
Despite the fact that its stage is smaller than those of Broadway theaters, the Engeman is able to use its space to create the sense that the audience is immersed in the world of “Annie.” The basic set is a series of Art Deco archways, but through the various scene changes, the arches are manipulated in different ways and several furnishings are replaced to create a feeling that the setting has changed. For example, the arches become covered in shadows to resemble the dirty roof of Annie’s orphanage, and they light up when they transform into the pillars of Warbucks’ mansion. The ability of the Engeman staff to recycle the same set for multiple scenes without breaking the illusion is impressive.
The cast, for the most part, is impressive in its ability to convey optimism. Andrews stands out from the rest of the crowd as her performance is filled with enthusiasm. Her strong singing voice and comedic hijinks were arguably the highlight of the show. Unfortunately, Ryan, playing the beloved little orphan, was the only actor who struggled to give a good performance due to her nasality. A good singing coach might have given her some direction on how to minimize the twang in her voice. On the other hand, her performance was appropriately energetic.
The story of “Annie” is, admittedly, saccharine and fantastic. For crying out loud, there is a scene where Annie, through the peppy song “Tomorrow,” inspires Franklin Delano Roosevelt to create the New Deal. The story is the polar opposite of most modern Broadway musicals in almost every way; the protagonist doesn’t have a crippling disorder or an inner conflict that plagues the lead roles of modern musicals, nor is there an abusive family relationship or dark atmosphere (even the Great Depression, one of the most terrible times in American history, loses its grim tone with the heart-lifting songs of the musical).
For example, “Dear Evan Hansen” deals with an anti-social boy coping with the death of a high school classmate, “Hamilton” was a serious biographical musical about the turmoils of a founding father and “Fun Home” involves abusive family relationships and a girl coping with her discovery that she is a lesbian. “Annie” steers clear of such drama in order to delight all audiences. It does seem that modern musical writers have forgotten that it is okay to write a happy-go-lucky show to entertain the whole family.
Part of the show’s charm is its score, written by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, which is beaming with happiness and sunshine. Songs like “Tomorrow” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” put a smile on my face with their cheerful melodies and whimsical lyrics. Can one remain grumpy when Annie sings, “The sun will come out tomorrow” and “You’re never fully dressed without a smile?”
Overall, Northport’s “Annie” is a fantastic production. It is by no means revolutionary, but it is undeniably heart-warming and perfect for the Christmas season. And unlike most modern musicals, it is also family-friendly — no f-bombs or sexual content are present in this show. It will be closing on Dec. 31, so make sure to see it now if you want to feel jolly for the happy holidays.