As the snow continues to fall in Vancouver, it seems fitting that Align Entertainment’s current offering is the Tony Award-winning musical, Annie, which not only beckons the sun to come out tomorrow, but also takes place at Christmas. And while a lot of effort has gone into putting on this ambitious musical, which involves a sizeable cast, gorgeous sets and costumes, a full orchestra, and two dogs (who alternate in the role of Sandy), this production doesn’t quite hit the mark. The issues lie mainly with comic timing and dialogue delivery, and a lack of vibrancy from some of the leads.
More on that later. But first, I want to emphasize the impressive elements of the show, which are the outstanding ensemble work and visual designs. In terms of the ensemble, the orphan girls are played with spunk and energy by a talented group of young triple threat performers. Among them, Naomi Tan is adorable and fierce as Molly. The adult ensemble is equally excellent, and their performance of “We’d Like to Thank You”, is a show highlight. I was very impressed by their gritty characterization of homeless New Yorkers, and punchy delivery of the song and Nicol Spinola’s entertaining choreography.
“NYC” provides another chance for both the adult and children ensemble to shine, especially Katie Graf, whose beautiful voice is a pleasure to hear in her solo as the “Star To Be”. The adult ensemble is also charming as Oliver Warbucks’ servants in “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”.
Ensemble member Megan Littlejohn is dynamite throughout the show. As the Apple Seller early on, she’s hilarious in her street-tough characterization; she’s later effervescent as Warbucks’ servant Cecile, appearing to float on air as she dances with wonderful grace and beautiful ballet technique. Ensemble member Waleed Hakeem is also strong, performing with great stage presence and carrying himself with excellent posture.
Another delightful highlight of the show is Robin Sukorokoff as President Roosevelt. A long-time veteran of community theatre productions across Metro Vancouver, it was exciting to see Sukorokoff have his moment in the spotlight with this role. His likeable charm and excellent singing was a treat.
Tony Barton’s impressive set design captures the decadence of Warbucks’ 5th Avenue mansion, featuring handsome windows and tall pillars, and later the addition of a luminous Christmas tree. Barton’s designs also gives us a glimpse of the cold bite of homeless life under a bridge in 1930’s New York, set against a gloomy backdrop of wintertime Manhattan .
Costume designer Chantal Short’s work is also exquisite, with nicely detailed designs that nail the era and, along with Barton’s set design, help paint a comic-book inspired picture onstage – a nice homage to the comic-book beginnings of the story of Annie.
Among the leads, only Daniel Curelli as Rooster seems to nail the style of the show, while also packing a punch with the delivery of his vocal work and movement. As Miss Hannigan’s seedy brother, Curelli’s performance is pure comic-book character meets Broadway.
In general, there doesn’t seem to be enough energy, stage presence, or relationship chemistry exuded by most of the leads to captivate your attention and emotions. And some actors also had issues with the singing, particularly with pitch.
One major issue with the show is that since the jokes and dialogue are very dated, getting the comic timing and delivery right is challenging - and this show sometimes falls flat in that area. There’s awkward silences during the show when audience members aren’t sure if they should be laughing. Other times, the jokes go completely over the audience’s heads.
This is very evident in Bert Healy’s radio show scene. A lot of great gags went to waste, such as the ventriloquist and the blindfolded characters who were never really noticed. A lot of potentially funny lines in this scene were completely thrown away.
Overall, the show is still pleasant to watch, but doesn’t manage to impress at the level of Align Entertainment’s previous productions of Joseph and A Christmas Story. This production of Annie isn’t uplifting enough to inspire audiences the way it’s meant to. If Align ever remounts this show, it would be nice to see improvements in the style and comedic timing of the dialogue, refinement in some of the singing, and more spark and likeability from some of the leads in order to make the story more relatable and compelling to audiences.
Align Entertainment’s production of Annie runs until February 16, 2019, at the Michael J. Fox Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit Align Entertainment’s website.