Annie

Annie Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Starring Lyla Tsiokos, Cami Miller, Schon McCloud
Garden Theater
Winter Garden, FL

The only real difference between this production and one in New York is these tickets cost less, and there’s plenty of free parking. You’ve read the comic strip, you’ve seen the movie, and you may well have seen this script before. (This is number three for me.) Annie (Tsiokos) lives in an orphanage slant sweatshop run by evil Miss Hannigan (Miller). It’s a typical slave labor job: the heat is off, the hours long and the chances of escape slim. But luck smiles and Annie is selected to spend the holidays with Oliver Warbucks (McCloud) who owns more property than God and the US Government combined. The depression rages but the Warbucks team lives in a luxury Annie comes to appreciate. Money can’t bring her long-lost parents back, but it does draw the scam artists. Oliver hires the FBI but then makes an ill-advised plea for Annie’s folks to come collect her and a $50k check on the radio. This draws Hannigan’s sleazy brother Rooster (Blake Aburn) and his floozie girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Grace Flaherty), and their greed gleefully brings down Ms. Hannigan.

So how good was this production? Stunning. Tsiokos played Annie, a tough kid who knew how to work the jailhouse system, Ms. Miller’s evil was superb; and she punctuated it with a ref whistle that made Sandy hide back stage. The energy between the two women felt like a real hatred, and that fired up the rest of the cast. Mr. Warbucks showed the tension between getting work done and attending to small children, and Aburn’s Rooster switched easily between swaggering schemer and pathetic con man. On the supporting list we have the gorgeous and efficient hyper-secretary Grace Farrell (Trisha Jane Wiles), the rotund FDR (Bob Brandenburg), and my favorite head butler Drake played by A. J. Garcia. All this fit onto a cleverly lit stage that shifted quickly and seamlessly as every object was on wheels ready to dance on and off. And as to Sandy, I was looking for more of a fox terrier, but this Sandy was a blissed out Golden retriever that never wandered off or chewed on anything. Yeah, this is a feel-good chestnut, but the acting and production values are as good as anything you’ll see on the Broadway tour. Season’s greetings to Mr. McKinnon and his choreographer Spenser Morrow for nailing this project!

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org

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