By Gretchen Van Benthuysen |
RED BANK – If you want to feel old, go see Andrea McArdle in “Annie” in the Vogel Auditorium of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Ocean Township through Nov. 18.
McArdle, the actress who played the diminutive orphan in the original 1977 production of “Annie” who was never fully dressed without a smile, now is playing the matron of the Depression-era orphanage who’s never fully dressed without a flask.
And does she knock it out of the park! As Miss Hannigan, McArdle has a whole lot less stage time compared to Annie, played by the delightful Echo Deva Picone in a superb crowd-winning performance. But when she’s on stage, we get pure gold from the pro.
“Why any kid would want to be an orphan, I’ll never know,” Miss Hannigan observes before 14 little girls launched into “It’s a Hard Knock Life” early in the show and brought down the house on Friday’s opening night. (Six members of the orphan ensemble also understudy the six main orphans.)
The excellent cast also includes Patrick Oliver Jones as Oliver Warbucks, Andrew Hubacher as Rooster Hannigan and Lara Hayhurst as Lily St. Regis, all appearing on the Axelrod stage courtesy of the Actors’ Equity Association union. Kate Marshall as Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell completes the main cast.
The adult ensemble members – playing multiple parts with numerous costume changes – flawlessly sing, act and dance their way through one of the most popular and pleasing American musicals.
Meticulously directed and choreographed by Al Blackstone (who also works
in film and TV and can boast of an Emmy Award nomination for “So You Think You Can Dance”) works wonders with a minimal set designed by Logan Greenwell with light- ing by Catherine Clark.
The 10-member orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Sotomayor, is never seen in this 500-seat theater without a pit and, at first, didn’t sound as robust as it has during previous productions this season, which included “Ragtime” and “Newsies.” But it improved quickly and the sound, designed by Kevin Johnson, was fine for the rest of the 2 1⁄2 hour show.
The original Broadway production of “Annie” ran for nearly six years. It was followed by national tours and numerous productions worldwide. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
It’s a feel-good show about an abandoned orphan of unknown parentage who is beaten and poorly fed but filled with so much optimism she makes everyone around her feel better about life.
Her enthusiasm even brings together a Republican billionaire capitalist and an idealistic Democratic president to figure out how to end The Great Depression.
Movers and shakers of different political persuasions getting along to solve the country’s problems. What a concept!
Tickets $45 to $56 through Nov. 18 at the Vogel Auditorium of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center, 100 Grant Ave., Ocean Township. Call 732-531-9106.
Journalist Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen’s theater news and reviews can be found on theatercues.com.