“Annie Warbucks”


Highly Recommended **** 

The holidays are on their way, and what better time for some shows that are truly “feel-good” productions. After recently watching “Annie” as it came through town on its annual road trip, I am reminded about the underlying story of politics and the economy of the show and for that matter, the era. Many people were not aware that a sequel was done to this Tony Award winning show of 1977 ( can it really be almost 40 years). The title, “Annie Warbucks”, and this play is now being performed on the stage at Theatre At The Center, in Munster, Indiana. FYI- This was an Off-Broadway show that opened in 1993 and ran for 200 performances. It is not often seen, but the folks in Munster felt that rather than another production of “Christmas Story” ( the musical or not), “It’s A Wonderful Life” (the radio show or the musical) and countless versions of “A Christmas Carol”, why not do something different?

The story begins just after the original ends. It is December of 1933 and (Little Orphan) Annie has moved in with Daddy Warbucks who has adopted her. After the smallish overture, the ensemble opens with “A New Deal For Christmas” (the one song from the original that is used to bridge the gap) and we see the happiness that all are living in, including a few of the other orphans who are paying Annie, Oliver Warbucks and Grace Farrell a holiday visit. One of the questions I receive from my readers, on a fairly regular basis is, “Where does all this brilliant talents come from?”. Chicago is a destination for young actors who come here knowing that we have more and better theaters to work in than any other city (yes, ANY OTHER). Many other just happen by chance. Young families have children who are born with talent and when nurtured create future stars. This show is a perfect example!

Over the years, many young singers have become stars just by playing the role of “Annie”. The role calls for a solid voice, cute smile and vibrant personality. It also helps if they can dance and act. Well, once again, Theatre at the Center, has found an “Annie” that not only fits the bill, this Highland Park talent, who was trained by Stacey Flaster, who has directed many a show in Munster, and has had vocal training with Roberta Duchak ( a well known vocal coach in the industry) is  absolutely  perfect. Emily  Zimmerman wears the red wig of the character with the dignity and respect that they bring to the role and her stage presence is a sheer delight. One cannot help but fall in love with this actress. And her voice is amazing!

But , here is some news. The rest of the girls in this ensemble are dynamite as well. Rika Nishikawa as Tessie, Lilly Bea Ireland as Pepper, Stella Hoyt as Molly, and Grier Burke as Peaches ,are all bright and talented young ladies as well. They sing, they dance, they act and are sooooo adorable. The other young actress in this production is McKenzie Franklin as CG Patterson, who is another “find” for this company. Handling the role of Daddy Warbucks is Chicago favorite David Girolmo, an actor who can sing and dance, and has the charm to win your heart as he works his magic to make this little girl happy. Turns out, that in order to develop a story that will make a play last two hours, Thomas Meehan ( book) needed a plot, so here it is. All is delightful and happy when a visitor comes to the door. Her name, Commissioner Doyle (brilliantly played by Iris Lieberman). It turns out, there is a statute that does not allow an unmarried male to adopt a child. SOOOO, Oliver Warbucks MUST get married or he loses his little girl.

Everyone assumes he will marry Grace (deftly handled by Elizabeth Telford), but, she is not in the mix. According to the Commissioner, she must be older and be on an approved list. Weell, now you know there is an obstacle, but not wanting to give it away, let us say that there is some trickery and deceit (as in the original) and that relations do get involved. There is a young lady who might be the one that Oliver is truly seeking. Her name is Mrs. Kelly (brililliantly played by another Chicago favorite, Heidi Kettenring) and she really does seem perfect. Again, there is some mystery in this book and the story takes a few twists and turns that will lead us to the happy ending that a holiday play should bring. The music is okay (Charles Strouse with lyrics by Martin Charnin) and under the leadership of William Underwood and his band ,propel the story. You will not be humming on the way home, unless it is “Tomorrow” from the original, but you will be entertained.

Direction and choreography by Linda Fortunato is direct and well done. The scenes move as smooth as silk and the dance numbers are divine (the kids are amazing). The set by Jack Magaw is cleverly done allowing us to go from scene to scene without much time wasted. Flow is absolutely a key in keeping the audience into the story. This is accomplished here! Most of you know how I feel about the ensemble of a musical. This great ensemble consists of these hard working, energetic people, who can change roles with costumes in an instant; Shelly Crawford, Reneisha Jenkins, Donterrio Johnson, Nancy Kolton, Courtney Lucien, Richard Marlatt, Michael Potsic, Jason Richards, James Sparling, Denzel Tsopnang, Keri Burman Castro, Garrett Lutz and the adorable S’Wheats as Sandy. Great work!

Tech by Brenda Winstead (costumes), Guy Rhodes (lighting), Barry G. Funderburg (sound), Brittney O’Keefe (props) and production manager Ann N. Davis complete the total picture  which is one that I would say will bring a great deal of Holiday Cheer to one and all. “Annie Warbucks” will continue through December 18th (perhaps, an extension?) with performances as follows:
Wednesdays  2 p.m.
Thursdays  2 p.m.
Fridays  7:30 p.m.
Saturdays  7:30 p.m.
Sundays  2:30 p.m.
extra performances may be added- check at www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com
Tickets range from  $40-$44 (a bargain for theater of this quality) and can be ordered by calling 800-511-1552 or online at www.tickets.com. Plenty of free parking!
You can also stop by the box office located at 1040 Ridge in Munster or at 1-219-836-3255

Looking for  a great gift for someone you love? This may be the perfect present.
To see what others are saying, visit http://www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Annie Warbucks”