Emily Jewel Hoder (left) and Alexa Lasanta star as Molly and Annie (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)
Everyone’s favorite pint-sized redhead is back on stage in NC Theatre’s production of Annie. This beloved musical is brought to life beautifully through Eric Woodall’s skilled direction, awesome lighting effects, amazing painted backdrops, and a charismatic cast that makes the joy and hope imbued in the story come bubbling to the surface.
The show opens, of course, with Annie (Alexa Lasanta) and her fellow orphans living a difficult life at an orphanage in New York run by the evil Miss Hannigan, cacklingly portrayed by Karen Ziemba. Lasanta nails the show’s first powerful number, “Maybe,” and wows audiences with her rich voice.
Most of the orphan scenes, though, are dominated by the precious little scene-stealer playing Molly, the orphanage’s youngest resident. Emily Jewel Hoder is impossible not to watch as she smirks, winks, and schemes throughout the show. She particularly stands out in the second act’s “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” number. Hoder completes James Gray’s bouncing choreography to the fullest and even adds in a few surprise moves of her own.
And, speaking of scene-stealers, rescue dog Macy, trained by William Berloni, also adds fun to the show in her portrayal of Sandy, the stray dog Annie befriends when she escapes the orphanage in search of her parents. Perfectly-trained and perfectly-adorable, Macy is one of the best Sandys around.
Unfortunately for Annie, she and Sandy get separated, and Annie gets dragged back to the orphanage. Things turn around for her, though, when she is chosen to spend Christmas with the rich, powerful, and lonely Oliver Warbucks (John Eric Parker) at his Fifth Avenue mansion.
This mansion is depicted so elaborately that it’s almost magical. Painted backdrops gleam and sparkle, while male servants tiptoe about in spiffy green suits. There’s even a huge, realistic portrait of Oliver Warbucks hung on the wall. Viewers will feel like they’re actually visiting the mansion with Annie and will be just as in awe as she is.
North Carolina Theatre‘s July 23-28 presentation of Annie stars Alexa Lasanta as Annie and John Eric Parker as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)
Immediately, Parker and Lasanta prove to have a cute chemistry. And, with the addition of Oliver Warbucks’ sweet secretary, Grace, endearingly portrayed by Manna Nichols, they feel almost like a real family from the start, in spite of Warbucks’ initial workaholic tendencies and cluelessness about children, especially girl children. Parker nails Warbucks’ transition perfectly and proves to be a very lovable Daddy Warbucks, not to mention a very handsome one. While Warbucks is often portrayed as a little older and a little more rough around the edges in many productions, Parker’s gentler portrayal is more enjoyable, and it makes his budding relationship with Grace, who is beautifully outfitted in capes and flowing gowns, all the more believable.
The chemistry among these three characters is palpable and so believable that it’s impossible not to get emotionally invested- and to root for a happy ending for all of them. Fortunately, as most lovers of this show know, a happy ending does ultimately unfold, though there are a few twists and turns along the way. And, in this production, the happy ending doesn’t feel cheesy or unbelievable. Instead, it’s incredibly heartwarming, proving that, when done right, Annie is still a perfect, timeless show, one with a message of hope that the world desperately needs right now, and this particular show, with its diverse casting and its message of making your own brand of love, sends the perfect message for modern times.
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