Sunday, July 1, 2012

Theatre review: "Annie" from Pittsburgh CLO-Sunday 1st July 2012

Pittsburgh CLO puts lots of delightful color into the 1977 Broadway mega-hit Annie with director Charles Repole breathing fresh life into it thanks to a good cast, a dandy dancing and singing ensemble full of local talent, supplemented by Michael Lichtefeld’s choreography, especially in the bigger numbers, plus great sets by nationally famed Kenneth Foy and a lively orchestra led by Tom Helm.

Sally Struthers gets wonderfully cartoonish as nasty orphanage overseer Miss Hannigan. Conrad John Schuck’s take on Daddy Warbucks does well, giving him a heart of gold under a gruff exterior and he sings with sturdy earnestness. St. Bede Elementary School’s Johanna Loughran plays Annie. Opening night I felt that she displayed no special personality and, though singing capably, sounded more like a brat than a sweet kid. And an out of town dog named Macy reprised her role of Sandy looking bored.

Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin wrote really good songs for this show, including Strouse’s tuneful “Little Girls,” “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here,” and “Easy Street, ” Charnin turning in especially clever lyrics a number of times.

The production reminds us of the ingenuity and invention of Thomas Meehan’s book including an evocation of the days of the Depression with street people temporarily sheltering Annie and a sleazy plot by Hannigan’s brother Rooster trying to profit by posing as Annie’s long-missing father. Moreover Meehan, Strouse and Charnin came up with ways to insert jolly production numbers along with goofy takes on old radio programs or showing how Warbucks has influence and pals around with political big wigs including president Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

By the way, have you ever thought about Warbucks’ name and what creator Harold Gray might have intended? An armaments profiteer, perhaps? According to Wikipedia the comic strip attracted adult readers with political commentary targeting, among other things, organized labor, the New Deal and communism. T
his show, as you may recall, doesn’t get satirical but does have fun evoking the period.

The cast includes Pittsburgh’s Tim Hartman as FDR, along with local talents Jeff Howell and Paul Palmer in smaller roles. And CMU music theatre major DenĂ©e Benton sings superbly, briefly seen in the song “NYC” as a character called “Star-to-be.” 27 students from the Pittsburgh CLO Academy of Musical Theater are in this. Especially note redheaded Chelsea Calfo as Pepper, one of Annie’s roommates at the orphanage; she exudes professional style and personality.

Also worth praise: the program book has thorough biographies of Meehan, Strouse and Charnin.

They created a charmer and Pittsburgh CLO gets it right.

Annie continues through July 8th at Benedum Center downtown. 412/456-6666 or

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