Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Annie

L-R: Casper as Sandy and Jenny Weisz as Annie (Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Not so Hard-Knock
by Beat Rice

Annie has always had a special place in my heart, as it was a favourite during my childhood. I could not help but feel nostalgic while hearing those familiar tunes at Young People's Theatre (YPT).  I also could not help but feeling a little let down by the production as a whole.

I understand that this production is not aiming to be a Broadway scale show, but I did expect more spirit in the musical performances. Technically, the vocals were great-everybody sang in tune and accurately with the accompaniment. It’s the time of the Great Depression, and these characters are either gritty and desperate, or benefitting from living the high-life. Their circumstances are clear, as it’s written into the show, but how do they feel about it?  Again, it’s written into the lyrics but the delivery of those words with the music is not as clear-cut and convincing. Take the orphaned girls for example. They all looked the part, but lacked the attitude and hardness one would have from living in a decrepit building under the tyranny of a bitter Ms Hannigan. Yet they sang with a pureness, which makes the number "Hard-Knock Life" a little unbelievable. 

In this version of the story we miss the entire development of the relationship between Oliver Warbucks and Annie, making his desire to adopt her seem out of the blue. But thankfully Sterling Jarvis and Jenny Weisz have the voices and the spirit to give life and substance to a story that has a huge chunk missing from it. The two find a genuineness that resonates from the moment they meet onstage.

Teresa Pryzbylski’s looming set of a cityscape is impressive, but does not match the production or the mood. We are watching a joyous cast in colourful clothes sing of beautiful mansions and the excitement of New York City in front of tall grey skyscrapers. The costumes are period accurate, help tell the story, and is the only design element that actually works.

One of the most enjoyable scenes is one that takes place in the White House with Roosevelt’s administration. Richard Binsley delivers a hilarious and charismatic President who forces his staff (all donned in fabulous wigs) to sing with Annie and to be positive just like her. Incidentally, it was also the scene in which most of the kids sitting around me clocked out and started fidgeting. 

It should be known that the version staged at YPT is the Theatre for Young Audiences version. It is meant to be entertaining and funny, and in that, the production succeeds. The tunes are catchy and timeless. Kids of all ages and families will have a wonderful time, despite some of  the unconvincing choices.

Annie Runs Nov. 11 - Dec. 29

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