LTA showcases newcomers in ‘Annie’

LTA showcases newcomers in ‘Annie’
The Little Theatre of Alexandria's Blue Cast for ‘Annie: The Musical.’ (Photo/Little Theatre of Alexandria)

By Thompson Eskew

The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s latest show brings the wonder and magic of the titular red-headed orphan in “Annie: The Musical.” Written by Thomas Meehan for Broadway in 1977, LTA brings the joy and wonder of Annie to Alexandria under the guidance of director Krissy McGregor. The amazing set design and costumes combined with the phenomenal voices of the cast, as well as the outstanding furry addition of Sandy the stray dog, perfectly delivers Annie’s life on stage. 

The musical follows a similar narrative to that of the original film, though with a handful of additional musical numbers for newcomers to enjoy. Set around Christmastime in 1933, Annie spreads her message of positivity and joy to everyone she meets along her journey throughout the Big Apple, from the humblest victims of the economic crisis to the billionaire Oliver Warbucks and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Making her LTA debut alongside many other newcomers, Milly Gerstenberg embodies the sheer joy that is Annie. Through both her incredible presence on stage and astounding voice to carry out her message to the world, she leads the theater’s Blue Cast as a triumphant bringer of goodwill. 

Other members of the Blue Cast include the remaining members of Miss Hannigan’s tortured orphans: Molly, Kate, Tessie, Duffy and even occasionally difficult Pepper all support their friend in her journey to find her parents, carrying out a couple of musical numbers of their own – such as the renowned “Hard-Knock Life” – with skill to solidify their standing with audience members. 

Krissy McGregor makes her directorial debut with LTA with vision and a positive mindset to match that of Annie herself. Jaclyn Robertson, a fellow LTA newcomer and show producer, helps bring Annie to life through the difficulties of two alternating casts of orphans and being pressed for time. 

“Having two casts was challenging because we had to balance the schedule so that each cast felt like they had enough time to rehearse, and sometimes we’d have them rehearse together and other times apart so that they all had a chance to experience the spacing,” McGregor said. “Figuring out the set transitions was a big challenge too, because we didn’t have a chance to start doing that until a week ago.” 

“We didn’t get on the stage until a week before, so we were rehearsing in small rehearsal spaces,” Robertson added. 

The antagonistic nature of Miss Hannigan toward her orphans is made abundantly clear through Amanda Silverstein’s outstanding performance, being especially poignant during her own song “Little Girls.” She continues to leave the audience laughing and in awe of her desire for a better life with the number “Easy Street,” shared alongside Hannigan’s crook brother Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan and his own partner Lily St. Regis. The two-bit crooks are fantastically portrayed by Shakil Azizi and Rachael Fine and “Annie” is also these three actors’ LTA debut. 

Fellow newcomers to LTA, Michael E. McGovern and Heather Hanna, perfectly deliver on their respective roles as the reserved billionaire Oliver Warbucks and his assistant Grace Farrell. The bond each character makes with Annie throughout the production can easily be felt from even the very back of the audience, from the banter they share to their own musical numbers including their reprise of “Tomorrow” and Warbucks’ own “NYC.” 

The great number of ensembles within the cast are not to be overlooked. Michael Santos Sandoval makes his debut with LTA as a handful of side characters, most notably the charming and farcical butler, Drake. Rene “Kieth” Flores similarly takes on many unnamed roles, but makes his presence most known as President Franklin D. Roosevelt singing “Tomorrow” alongside Annie and Warbucks. Although she is only on stage for a single number, newcomer Rachel Ferguson receives her own portion of “NYC” to make her hopeful aspirations known to the city. 

But no staged musical is complete without its orchestra and sets, both of which are a wonder to behold for this latest production. With music originally composed by Charles Strouse, LTA’s own Josh Cleveland takes the reins of the orchestra in spectacular fashion. From the distinct tunes of the keyboards and bass to the reverberations of the drums and woodwind instruments, every song brought to stage is perfectly accompanied by the symphonies of the invisible orchestra. 

The work of set designers Rebecca Kalant and Adam Reed and set constructors Shah Choudhury and Julie Fischer is brought into full focus throughout the two-hour runtime. The marvel of New York City is made clear in the towering background of skyscrapers and illuminated windows, as well as neon signs, which accentuate the pizazz of the fat-cat lifestyle in the 1930s. Even the sets with the shortest scenes receive just as much attention to detail as the continuous presence of Oliver Warbucks’ mansion and Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. 

LTA honors the original 1977 Broadway musical as best it can, with the managing staff careful not to make any changes to the story or message of the musical. 

“Our Grace was not blonde,” Robertson offered as perhaps one of the largest departures from the original rendition. 

“The same themes are still true today, and it’s very applicable,” McGregor said. “Especially with so much to complain about in the world, there’s always a reason to be down, but there is always someone who is there to remind you to have hope and optimism too. The idea of ‘choosing your family’ as well, those themes still ring true today.” 

“Annie: The Musical” is an uplifting delight to watch and fun for the whole family. 

Written by Thomas Meehan. Music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin. Music direction by Josh Cleveland, choreography by Jessi Shull. Produced by Jaclyn Robertson and Mary Beth Smith-Toomey. Directed by Krissy McGregor.