People have a hard time forgetting firsts. You’re going to remember events like your first concert for many years after the fact. If you or a loved one are looking to experience a musical for the first time, there isn’t a better choice than the 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Annie.
Annie was actually the first musical I ever saw—my sister loved the 1982 version and we’d seen it performed everywhere from Youth Theater Northwest to the Paramount. As a result, I went into this production with a more critical eye than usual. I wasn’t expecting anything awful, but I expected to walk away confident that my previous experiences would reign superior.
My mind changed for the better at the beginning of the song, “Tomorrow.” As one of the more iconic pieces of the show, Visesia Fakatoufifita had big shoes to fill her with her rendition right off the bat. But she still succeeded nevertheless, with a voice powerful and optimistic enough to match her character. Her fellow orphans also provided outstanding accompaniment throughout. Even the youngest members of the cast were giving it their all, and it showed. Nuances to their choreography in the orphanage complemented their effortless harmonies.
Cynthia Jones as Miss Hannigan, Cheyenne Casebier as Lily St. Regis, and Dane Stokinger as Rooster in Annie. Photo Credit Tracy Martin.
This isn’t to say the adults were bad by comparison. They had their fair share of memorable moments as well. Daddy Warbucks, as portrayed by Timothy McCuen Piggee, oscillated between the roles of tough 1930s businessman and nervous-but-caring surrogate father in ways that warmed one’s heart.
Additionally, the diverse casting decisions as a whole created a more racially equitable version of the usually white musical.“Little Orphan Annie,” the original comic strip the musical was based on, had a couple minority characters in the background or in more prominent but racially demeaning roles. It championed a political agenda unsympathetic to minority groups, and although the musical transitioned away from those themes when it was adapted, previous casting decisions remained. Recent productions of the musical have become more racially equitable by casting more minorities in positive leading roles. This performance continues this trend, and it enhances the message of the play—that anyone can overcome adversity if they believe hard enough.
As well, the venue itself does a lot for the heart of this production. Acoustics are excellent, and something about the audio design really emphasizes the 30s accents of the performers, especially in the radio performance scenes. When actors utilize props, they often do with the tactile clicks and clacks that are associated with a clear, vintage sound. Backgrounds are consistently vivid, Annie’s orphanage is appropriately grimy, matte backdrops contain impressive attention to detail, and transitions between them all are nearly as rapid as the pace of the play.
Jessica Skerritt as Grace, Visesia Fakatoufifita as Annie, and Timothy McCuen Piggee as Oliver Warbucks in Annie. Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
Unlike some other musicals like Hamilton which wholly consist of musical numbers, in Annie scenes alternate between songs and spoken dialogue. This creates the opportunity for awkward or sluggish transitions. But by leaping into the music on the last couple speaking lines of a scene, shifts are accomplished in a smooth, effortless manner. At first, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, though that wonder began to fade after the technique got repeated over the course of the show.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to find any legitimate grievances with this production. The show strikes a medium between being over too quickly, and going on for too long. Some of the songs in the play seem to move slower than the peppy pace of the plot. With the exception of the always-fabulous “Tomorrow,” it can be hard for the musical to slow down a little without the audience getting bored.
I walked away from Annie with same infectious sense of optimism as its titular character. Maybe it was the feel good themes, the quality performances, or the holiday spirit just getting to me. That feeling of joy is something I hope everyone will get to experience this winter, and I’m glad that this play was able to do that for me.