Isabelle Murphy as Annie and Jennifer Knight as Grace, sharing a laugh onstage. Photo by Lily Cowper
There are a few key components that everybody knows about the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” turned radio show turned hit musical “Annie.” The show was thrust upon the Broadway boards in 1975, launching road tours, revivals, and even a few movies — the best-known released in 1982. We all know that Annie has curly red hair, she’s an orphan, there’s a dog in the show — a real one, not an actor in a dog suit. A billionaire named Mr. Warbucks shows up early in the backstory; F.D.R. is a pal of Mr. Warbucks, and most important, once you hear the song “Tomorrow,” you’ll have it as an earworm for the rest of your life.
“Annie” is now lighting up the Performing Arts Center stage at the high school. An evening of “Annie” with its fun sketchy plot, clever dialogue, great songs, and of course, the dog, a real dog, turns a night at the PAC into the perfect family event. It’s produced by our own locally sourced Island Theater Workshop, which, a few summers ago, decided to step up its game by staging grand old glossy musicals.
You know you’re in the right place for an old-school musical when a live orchestra strikes up the overture, with fleeting strains of the coming hit songs, including “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard-Knock Life.” In the pit at the PAC are music director Bill Peek on keyboard, Jan Hyer on cello, Ann Davey and Scott Shetler, clarinet, and Liz Henderson, violin. They’re very good.
Massive curtains draw back to reveal a backsplash of lofting windows with views of old New York tenement buildings. Sprawled along the floor, a 15-kid crew of orphans struggles to sleep, some calling “Mama!” and others scrapping, with Annie comforting all of them like a child-size Mother Teresa. Suddenly they break out in song. The lead orphan, after Annie, is Molly, played by the effervescent West Tisbury School fourth grader Molly Crawford, who not only acts, sings, and mobilizes the others with her tiny fists raised in her own urchin joie de vivre, but who, at one heart-stopping point, throws back two gymnastic loop-de-loops that produce an audible gasp from the audience.
Other star turns are offered up by Isabelle C. Murphy, in the eighth grade at the Edgartown School, as a contemplative version of Annie; with Shelley Brown as the whistle-tooting evil matron Miss Hannigan; actress, life coach, and vice president of ITW Jenny
Knight as Grace, the elegant love interest for Mr. Warbucks (Brad Austin), singer and actor from the real world; Paul Doherty, now living in Vineyard Haven, as the hilariously vile Rooster Hannigan, along with Alysha Norbury as Rooster’s squeaky-voiced blond sexpot; Paul Padua as a kindly F.D.R., with a small cabinet of fun blokes; young Auggie Padua as a radio talk-show host, a trio of commercial singers drenched in sequins and Lennon Sisters attitude: Stephanie Burke, Gwenn Mead, and Molly Chvatal, and, needless to say, Sandy (the real dog!), played by Manfred, the Mighty Wonder Dog, who hit his mark every time. And to rest of the cast of thousands: You all did good!
Kudos to director Kevin Ryan, artistic director of ITW; to Liz Villard for lighting design and operation; Sebastian Corwin, stage manager; and Joanne Ryan, house manager. Again, there are another 1,000 crew members that we need to congratulate as a group.
Take the kids — it’s a great thing to do when you tire of barbecues in the backyard followed by trips into town for ice cream.
“Annie” is on stage with more performances on August 3, 4, and 5, at 7:30 pm, with a 3 o’clock matinee on August 6. Tickets are available at ticketsmv.com. You can find more information at itwmv.org, or call 508-737-8550.