Annie is an iconic American musical produced in every school and community theater in the country, so why would a new theater company choose it for its premiere production? A dozen darling little girls, for one. And to raise money for several local charities and nonprofit organizations, for another. Streamline Productions founder Krissy McKown and co-producer Holly Spears assembled a large cast and crew of volunteers for Annie to raise funds for Pet Helpers, PURE Theatre, MUSC Children’s Hospital, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Trident Academy.
Based on Harold Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip, Annie the musical was first produced on Broadway in 1977 and has since become a favorite for its optimism, humorous characterizations, and rousing score. Set in 1933, the nadir of the Great Depression, Annie (Caroline Hamrick) is an orphan in New York City who clings to the belief that her parents will come for her one day and take her home. Meanwhile, she lives in a city orphanage with a dozen other girls under the supervision of Miss Hannigan (Cindi Carver-Futch), who would make Mrs. Mann in Oliver Twist proud. Miss Hannigan makes no effort to hide her feelings for Annie — she hates the red-headed orphan. Annie’s life changes dramatically when Grace Farrell (Krissy McKown) visits the orphanage on behalf of her boss, Oliver Warbucks, the billionaire, who was an orphan himself, and chooses Annie to spend Christmas with Mr. Warbucks, Grace, and the household staff. Annie charms everyone around her, including President Franklin Roosevelt.
Under the direction of Army Wives‘ Casting Director Richard Futch and musical direction of Robbi Kenney, the talented cast is headed by several accomplished professional actors, as well as amateurs. Caroline Hamrick is lovely and well-cast as Annie, and carries her role with confidence. The vocal transitions are difficult, but Hamrick masters her part in “I Don’t Need Anything But You.” The other orphan girls are delightful and sharp in their music, lines, and choreography, designed by Cara Dolan. Especially noteworthy are Gabrielle Barbara Klok, who plays Annie’s nemesis Pepper, and the effervescent Olivia Emily Eichelberger, who plays Molly, the precocious youngest member of the cast. Her impression of a drunk Miss Hannigan elicited bellows of laughter from this reviewer.
All the leads are strong actors and singers. Carver-Futch’s sardonic and mean Miss Hannigan is also fun, which makes her strangely appealing, but her New York accent wavers as her Southern accent creeps in at times. The musical number “Easy Street” with Richard “Bubba” Bryant of Army Wives as Rooster and the always-spot-on Lara Allred as Lily St. Regis is particularly entertaining, but the vocals are weak as the choreography picks up. Bryant and Allred also make the most of playing the Mudges. As Oliver Warbucks, Bradley Keith, with his clear tenor voice, is perfectly cast, and producer McKown plays Grace with, well, grace and poise, and she is a talented singer in her own right.
The large ensemble is a mix of experienced professionals and novices. Overall, they maintain the energy and focus of the show, aside from some problems with the choreography and a strange late entrance for “NYC.” Susie Hallat, who’s double cast as the Hooverville cook, Sophie, and Warbuck’s cook, Mrs. Pugh. In both roles, Hallat is magnetic. She quickly establishes her characters and vocally leads the musical numbers.
Streamline’s production of Annie at the Charleston Music Hall is ambitious with its large cast and complicated costumes and the sheer scale of the theater. The production has most of its challenges in the technical realm. The two painted, backlit drops — one of the overpass and city buildings for the orphanage scenes, and the other of New York City’s exciting cultural offerings — are impressive and massive. Warbucks’ mansion is disappointing, though — it’s rough and bland and lacks the elegance of a billionaire’s mansion. The first scene change is rough and ugly and needs a lighting cue.
Jeannie and David Joyner deserve credit for their costume design. The costumes are well designed and fitted, and accurate for the period. The one glaring bad choice is Annie’s wig, a dark auburn color instead of the signature bright red. It is in dire need of a good brushing when Annie joins Warbucks for Christmas, to complement the make-over and new clothes.”
Despite the rough spots, Streamline’s Annie leaves the audience smiling, if for no other reason than the screaming, dancing, singing little girls that drive Miss Hannigan crazy.