The musical Annie might be a lot less famous than its signature song “Tomorrow,” but the play is not much less popular than the original syndicated comic strip, “Li’l Orphan Annie” that ran for several years in North American newspapers. The story of the spunky orphan Annie who finds her way into the home and heart of Daddy Warbucks is no less endearing than the local Island heroine, Anne of Green Gables. Makes me wonder if one was influenced by the other. Speculation aside, surely the story about a spirited and charming little orphan girl will find its way into the hearts of Islanders, so this is a really good choice for a high school musical. I believe these older musicals need to be staged just because classical musicals deserve to live on—not just as music or isolated songs, but as actual full stage performances. I would otherwise rue the day musical theatre dies (knocking very hard on wood!). That said, I was finally glad when the show began a little over 5 past 8, as the Lt. Governor Frank Lewis and his party filed into their seats and the Vice Regal Salute was played. I’m sure that was a great honor for the cast and if they were nervous, you would never have guessed it!
Enter overture. That band is GOOD
. Yes, in capitals. I don’t think having a professional orchestra doing the score would have made it any better.
The opening scene was really promising and right away you could see that this was a pretty well-rehearsed play and it would turn out to be a fairly decent production, at the least. Once Emily Proude as Annie opened her mouth to sing the opening song, I knew this couldn’t get much better. I was wrong.
The cast was amazing. They clearly understood tension and extension and projecting character. They knew they were performing for an audience and at no point did the audience feel left out of the performance. They had internalized their characters and maintained them every single moment on stage. The blocking was excellent, the choreography was fun and clean, and 90% of the time the gestures and movements were definite, firm and deliberate. That is so much more than I can say of some more mature actors I have seen on PEI stages. The sets were just right—functional, effective, not overly done, and efficiently changed—except for Daddy Warbucks’s desk that came in a tad late at the start of Scene 4 in the second Act. In fact, I wouldn’t have noticed the desk creeping in had some of the audience not laughed. The other technical aspects were just perfect—lighting was just right, with the right mix of light and no distracting shadows; miking was well balanced and there were no overlaps even when characters came close to each other, costumes were really good with just one exception: one of the NYC homeless looked like she’d come out of the late 1800s. Was she in the right costume room? Another little quibble with the technicals…Bert Healy’s radio show…big oversight in the execution and use of scripts: radio scripts were always fastened at the bottom so that the order to “drop page” literally meant to drop it, not flip it over…this to prevent and rustling of sheets that might be picked up by the mikes…which happened over and over again. Even the painting reproductions were charming…the Mona Lisa, Starry Starry Night and The Old Guitar Player—the art class must have had a fun time doing those!
While not every member of the cast had a voice made in heaven, the leads certainly could sing, and sing they did, with feeling and gusto. The choruses were clean and well executed. The acting was, well, acting! Even if they hammed it up a bit and there was some cheesiness, it was just perfect for the script and definitely elicited laughs whenever there should have been some. Besides Emily Proude’s spunky and winsome Annie, there are a few other roles deserving special mention. Daddy Warbucks—Colby Currie wasn’t your balding, stocky Warbucks, being tall and quite svelte instead, and while he wasn’t Josh Groban, his speaking voice was deep but clear and his singing was filled with fervor. The way he carried on with his serious, perpetually frowning, businesslike brusqueness was so convincing.
By Cindy Lapeña
Rooster, played by Ben MacDonald, and his girl Lily, played by Marisa Boudreault, were a perfect pair. MacDonald had the perfect sleazy look and tone, and all the right moves. Boudreault wasn’t a bad floozy, but you could see she was a bit inhibited at the start, although she warmed up to her character by the second act. Lindsay Gillis as Grace Farrell was perfectly efficient, bustling, and in control of her character. Drake, played by Aaron Rainnie, was the perfect combination of laconic and poker faced efficiency even as they were celebrating on Christmas Eve. As FDR, Colin Power had some really good moments and got all his laugh lines right. My friend Tristan Lewis once again proved his growing talent with his multiple roles that he slipped into and out of with ease—and his Bert Healy was hilarious. And no, I’m not biased just because I know him! The Warbucks house staff was a great chorus, as were the orphan children. Of course, one musn’t overlook the amazing Mrs. Hannigan, emoted so very well by Jennipher Doyle. Her voice was perfect for the role and the songs. I loved her rendition of Little Girls, and her Easy Street with MacDonald and Boudreault was totally entertaining. What else can I say about Emily Proude’s Annie? The role suited her to a T. Even if she might have been a bit tall for an 11 year old orphan, one quickly overlooks that when she turns her wide eyed winsome smile on.
Have I mentioned that this is a high school musical? I have to say this is THE high school musical of the year, so far. That the Charlottetown Rural High School fosters theatre development is highly commendable, as this musical shows. That a whole town collaborated to bring this together is even more wonderful. All the effort put into this production by the producers Edwin Hughes and Marla Haines, the director Richard Haines, the choreographer Julia Sauve, Vocal Coach Julain Molnar, Vocal Captain Lindsay Gillis, and the rest of the cast, crew and sponsors is a wonderful testimonial to the province’s strong support for the arts. I wouldn’t miss watching this if I were you.