Paper Mill Playhouse’s latest revival is the perennial “Annie”, with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Martin Charnin. It is a love song to the indomitable human spirit, when an orphan, who’s had it tough, can manage to find a silver lining—during the Depression—so clearly we can too!
Many would ask, “Why?” Why revive “Annie,” and why now? The answer is simple–there are good times and bum times and through it all, we’re still here. A 10-year old has a native intelligence and a charming naiveté that we as adults push far back into our collective consciousness by telling ourselves that innocence is weakness. That fresh outlook is actually a strength–what Buddhists call the Beginner’s Mind. Annie’s accidental, and occidental, Buddhism prepares her to encounter every new situation in a way that I frankly find inspiring.
The performance I enjoyed featured Cassidy Pry, one of the two girls alternating as Annie. She’s clearly a ginger, a gentle redhead in every sense of the word. Her posse of orphan sisters includes Molly (Tessa Noelle Francogna), Pepper (Gabby Beredo), Duffy (Michelle Henderson), July (Lauren Sun), Tessie (Eve Johnson), and Kate (Sloane Wolfe), who are full of the antic, frenetic energy of little girls, which makes them delightful, as well as enervating, to be around.
Christopher Sieber is a superb Daddy Warbucks, who is master of his domain, yet an apprentice in the world of children. When he beams at Annie, though, you see how quickly she is clearly and sincerely the apple of his eye! Erin Mackey as Grace Farrell is the master of her domain as well–she keeps everything running smoothly, effortlessly, and sees immediately how important Daddy Oliver and Annie will be to one another. Also, it is pure magic when Oliver sees the aptly named Grace well and truly as if for the first time, when she is dressed to the 11s for Annie’s celebration. The smarmy oleaginous Rooster Hannigan (Cooper Grodin) and his femme fatale Lily St. Regis (Kim Sava) are the perfect grifting dynamic duo–they are dancing through their schemes like Fred and Ginger, and—SPOILER ALERT—thankfully none ever pan out. My favorite performance of the evening is that of Beth Leavel as Miss Hannigan. She is that rare actor who was born knowing how to feel the center of the light. She shares focus well with the others on stage, but truly shines—she is the whole package. Every little bit she does, with her “medicine” and the full-on physical comedy that she employs are brilliant. Hannigan is such a rich character role, which is often one of the most memorable, and Leavel hits it out of the park.
For any of us who thought the world was more simple in the long-ago, “Annie” reminds us that life is gritty in the city, and yet vibrant life grows and thrives even in the cracks of the pavement. Give the gift of an experience that will last a lifetime. Visit www.PaperMill.org
today before all the seats are gone. “Annie” runs in Millburn, New Jersey through December 31.