Monday, December 4, 2017

'Annie' retains power to charm

Annemarie Martin as Miss Hannigan sings "Little Girls." (Mark and Tracy Photography)
Whether it’s your first or your umpteenth go-round, Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Annie” is sure to please.

The kids are cute, the adults dynamic and the dogs adorable.

Based on the long running “Little Orphan Annie” cartoon and adapted by Thomas Meehan, “Annie” is the story of 11-year-old Annie (Emily Mannion), whose parents left her at a New York City orphanage in 1922 when she was an infant.

Overseeing the orphanage is the child-hating, tippling Miss Hannigan (Annemarie Martin).

By chance, billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Ric Iverson) decides he wants an orphan to stay in his mansion for two weeks over Christmas. He’s all bluster at first, but Annie softens him and wins his heart.

From the plaintive “Maybe” to the upbeat “Tomorrow,” the music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin are memorable.

Some favorites includes “It’s a Hard-knock Life,” performed by the orphan girls as they scrub the floor; “Little Girls,” in which Miss Hannigan expresses her hate for the kids; “Easy Street,” sung by Miss Hannigan, her ne’er-do-well brother, Rooster (David Blackburn), and his floozy girlfriend, Lily St. Regis (Sarah Thermond) and “N.Y.C.,” sung by Warbucks, Annie and Grace Farrell (Sarah Armstrong), his secretary.

The latter song features the newly arrived Star-to-Be (Catherine Rieflin). Some trivia: Martin played that role in a 1999 production in San Jose, and Iverson was in the ensemble.

Directed by Virginia Musante, the large cast includes a versatile ensemble of adults who play such varied roles as Warbucks’ staff and the residents of a Hooverville, the Depression equivalent of a homeless encampment.

Some of them also play members of President Franklin Roosevelt’s (Gary Pugh-Newman) Cabinet.

Performances by all of the principals are outstanding, with special accolades to the poise of young Mannion as Annie and the comic timing of Martin as Miss Hannigan.

Opening night had a few technical glitches, but none were serious. However, there were times when music director Matthew Jon Mattei’s orchestra overpowered the actors, especially during dialogue.

Costumes, hair and makeup are by choreographer Gennine Harrington with lighting by Don Coluzzi. The set and sound design are uncredited in the program.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Annie” is enjoyable holiday entertainment from start to finish for all but the very young.

It will continue at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, through Dec. 17. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit