When Shorewood Players’ Annie opened last weekend, the Great Depression met today’s Great Recession. Annie is the story of the plucky orphan fighting the Great Depression with infectious optimism, taking a millionaire and even FDR along for the ride. In Shorewood’s production, a magnetic young actress leads a troupe of energetic orphans with that same positive outlook, giving the audience an entertaining respite.
As Annie, TaylorAnne Stefanski exhibits charm, innocence and spunk. She has the voice, the dancing talent and acting chops to keep the audience absorbed. Teresa Drews as the hated Miss Hannigan is Annie’s foe. Hannigan’s repulsion and scorn is countered by Annie’s charm and innocence. Because of Hannigan’s flaws, we cheer for Annie. Drews mines the role for laughs, and finds many gems.
Trinny Gaulke portrays Grace Farrell, assistant to Oliver Warbucks. She is the bridge between the droll orphanage and the vast Warbucks estate. Gaulke catches Annie’s optimism, and finds that by making a place for Annie, she also finds a home. As Warbucks, Michael Ray is an iconic 1930’s businessman. Ray’s interpretation maintains the all-business focus, but he softens to show that success is empty without people to love.
As grifters Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, Robert Schuettpelz and Tamara Safer bring broad comedy to their scenes. In “Easy Street,” Rooster, Lily and Miss Hannigan savor the dream of easy money. Soon, Rooster and Lily hatch a scheme, claiming to be Annie’s parents and collect Warbucks’ reward. For most in the audience, the scam was entertaining buffoonery. But young children saw a demonstration of the best in children’s theatre.
Supplementing these strong leads, the vibrant energy of the many talented kids is more than worth the price of admission. In some scenes, notably “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” the two-story orphanage was a hive of activity, with kick lines, pinwheels and motion everywhere. Standouts among the amiable orphans were Gaby Musickant (Molly), Zoe Drews (Pepper), Kamilah Lay (Duffy), Rebecca Mesnick (July), Emma Borkowski (Tessie) and Nicole Otto (Kate). The band of girls played a convincing game of cat and mouse with Miss Hannigan, staying one step beyond her sinister control. Notable was Gaby Musickant as Molly, the youngest orphan. Kudos to Choreographer Amie Ferrante for engaging the cast and the audience with appealing dance numbers.
Another outstanding moment was David Flowers’ turn as FDR. For people who know Roosevelt from radio or newsreels, Flowers’ impression was striking. And Larry Ladin as radio host Bert Healy made us appreciate the charm of the Golden Age of Radio.
Director Terry Grazer drew a spirited performance from a very large cast. As he has done many times with Shorewood, he makes each cast member of that cast earn their place on stage. Grazer both paid respect to the 30-year-old classic, and gave it a new energy. Music Director Emily Taylor assembled a skilled orchestra and provided musical energy to power the show.
(Photo: TaylorAnne Stefanski as Annie in Shorewood Players Annie The Musical. Photo by Sal Tomasello)
Performances continue through June 27. To order tickets visit www.shorewoodplayers.org or 414-737-3421.
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