Musical has heart
Elgin Park Players production of Annie had that quality one looks for most in high school musicals – heart.
This was a show in which one could see a cast, backstage crew and musicians do their utmost to overcome limited production and casting resources and carry the sheer weight of a Broadway musical – never a light burden.
By and large, the Elgin Park group coped well with the stresses and delivered much of the charm of Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s witty stage confection inspired by Harold Gray’s Depression-era comic strip.
Typifying the production was the earnest performance of Jocelyn Huggett as the feisty, red-haired heroine. It’s a deceptively simple-looking but challenging role. (Just try singing ‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow’ to a friendly pooch you hope will co-operate, all the while staying in your light and remaining in character...)
It’s to Huggett’s credit that she met most of the challenges with aplomb, had obviously worked hard on her musical numbers and managed to project a lot of the pathos as well as the scrappiness of the character.
It should be noted the pooch in question, Mia, a cute cockapoo playing the role of Sandy, also did an exemplary job of hitting her marks and portraying the canine essence of the character.
A lot of the weight of the musical, however, was carried by some crackerjack co-starring and supporting turns.
Colton Powell, as Annie’s billionaire benefactor Daddy Warbucks, delivered a splendidly large, mature and authoritative performance, capturing not only Warbucks’ profane volatility but also a convincingly tender, fatherly side.
Powell also showed that he can put over musical numbers very well, particularly the celebratory NYC and the touching Something Was Missing – and he should be commended for shaving his head to more thoroughly portray the smooth-pated magnate.
Bethany Stanley packed a punch as Miss Hannigan, the alcoholic, mean-spirited supervisor of the orphan asylum from which Annie escapes. Stanley has a great, powerful voice ideal for belting such numbers as Little Girls and Easy Street, and a good sense of humour that helped elicit laughs, even though there were a few unexplored nuances to the character. As her brother, Rooster, Kristoff Duxbury overcame his youth with energy and a complete understanding of the shady con-man, which led to more than a few chuckles, and helped carry the Easy Street number.
Suzie Jones, as Rooster’s blonde bombshell girlfriend, Lily St. Regis (“I’m named after the hotel,” as she proudly proclaimed) was absolutely delightful: funny, composed and thoroughly at ease with her characterization and delivery, and also making a fine contribution to Easy Street.
Excellent contributions in singing, dancing and characterization, too, from all the orphans – both the speaking roles of Kate (Katya Baranosvkaya), Jessie (Brianna Flemington), Pepper (Chloe Boynton), July (Abbey Ashley) and Duffy (Lauren Bruce), and the others (Katie Doyle, Georgina Bruce, Madison Price, Madison Temple, Clare Murphy and Sarah Mizon). Numbers, such as Hard Knock Life and the orphans’ reprise of You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile, amply demonstrated the lift even the smallest chorus role can give to such a musical.
But special mention is deserved by Kirsten Graves as Molly, the youngest of the orphans, who demonstrated huge stage presence and a big and tuneful singing voice, suggesting a tremendous potential for future Elgin musicals.
Sydney Thorne sang and projected well as Warbuck’s ever-efficient secretary Grace; also suggesting her touching adulation of her boss – sadly never resolved in this staging. Adam Clarke and Duncan Pucker also brought good characterization to the sympathetic roles of President Roosevelt and butler Drake.
Males in the ‘adult’ chorus (Pucker, Aidan Sank, Ryan Buhrig and Zack Miller) managed multiple roles admirably, most notably as members of Roosevelt’s cabinet; the ladies of the adult chorus similarly showed versatility, spirit and verve whether portraying members of Warbucks’ household or street people (a special nod is deserved by Kirsten Cave for her cameo singing contribution to the NYC number).
Only downside was the interpretation of the radio broadcast scene – while Sank, Emily Rickards, Alyssa Standeven and Daria Dyck sang and projected well as Bert Healy and the Boylan Sisters, the segment somehow did a side skip from affectionately corny parody into a desultory depiction of ineptitude that didn’t represent the importance or urgency of radio during the period, and held up, rather than advanced, the plot. Director Stan Engstrom otherwise invested the show with good staging and nice touches; vocal director Kelly Proznick did a good job of corralling vocal resources, musical director David Proznick whipped together a largely student orchestra (most from Semiahmoo Secondary) that coped well, for the most part, with typically tricky scores and choreographer Carol Seitz did her usual sterling work making the most of the cast’s variable dance capabilities.
Cathy Bruce and a large parent crew should be also be commended for a fine job of putting together costumes; set elements and vintage props were assembled with an eye for detail as well as practicality, and the use of projected street scenes was so much more effective than painted drops could have been.