There is this thing about Molly Rhode and Skylight Music Theatre and a piece of musical theater that has been seen by just about everyone in the theater loving community.
The thing is “sure,” as in sure thing.
Ms. Rhode directs and choreographs the current production of “Annie,” the 40-year old classic that opened at Skylight last weekend. And just like the same roles she filled in “The Sound of Music” for Skylight five years ago, she has created a production with new insight and emotional tugs that I’ve never seen before.
The Ms. Rhode hallmark is that she finds something newish, something that has its own weight and serves the telling of the story. So, too, with this production.
Ask just about anyone about the music in “Annie” and you’ll get “Tomorrow” first and then possibly “Hard Knock Life.” Certainly great songs written by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin. The two songs were bookends to the story, one about the difficulty of daily life and the other about the bright hope for tomorrow.
But Rhode found a couple of other songs that proved to be starring moments in the show.
The first was “Easy Street,” the showcase for the evil in America. With Carrie Hitchcock as Miss Hannigan and Matt Crowle as the ever-scheming Rooster and the always delightful Samantha Sostarich in a trio that had all the antagonism and mystery that every criminal enterprise needs. It was a crucial reminder for the audience that it wasn’t all sunshine and balloons in the world of Annie.
The second number, and the one that brought the most spontaneous standing ovation all night, was “Fully Dressed,” sung and danced and acted by the seven orphans (the Light cast that I saw Saturday night) who used to live with Annie. It’s a reminder that despite the depression that grips the entire country, you are never fully dressed without a smile.
Rhode’s work is possible with a team of designers and actors who can live up to here high and demanding standards.
I’ve heard it said that if you’ve got an Annie then you are home free for this show. Eloise Field played Annie in the cast I saw (the role of her and the orphans are double cast) and she had all the earnestness and determination that Annie needs. In addition she’s got a rustic voice that gets the high notes, the low notes and all those in between.
Her joys and her worries were clear and full of emotion and she was a real treasure as she made sure this show has a great Annie.
But she is not alone as a stellar supporting cast rises to the occasion.
As Miss Hannigan, Ms. Hitchcock has all the whacky and wild and booze-fueled behavior that Carol Burnett made so famous in the 1982 movie. She was like a Phyllis Diller on speed and steroids.
The lovely Diane Lane provided the serenity that was the hallmark of the retinue of Daddy Warbucks. She was gorgeous in her blue gown and she, as always, sang like an angel.
And then there was Andrew Varela as the billionaire Warbucks.
Mr. Varela was last seen at Skylight as the maddened Sweeney Todd, a role that is a vicious as you might expect from a barber who murders people. His Sweeney was as magical as any I’ve seen.
Then he comes along to Warbucks, who couldn’t be further away from the barber. Here he is flustered easily by the little girl who has come into his life and his gradual warmth to her is perfectly paced. His a commanding presence on the stage with his voice and acting chops, but he understands that any play rides on the shoulders of many and is a gracious sharer of the stage.
As he made his decision to adopt Annie, he sings the most tender song in the show. They waltz together, her tiny feet on top of his shoes, a nod to every father who has ever danced with his small daughter.
“The world was my oyster
But where was the pearl?
Who’d dream I would find it
In one little girl
Yes, something was missin
But dreams can come true
That something is
No one but you.”
Skylight is now back to the wonderful, high-level standards for musical theater, and nothing could be more evident of that than the sets designed and lit by Peter Dean Beck. The sheer variety of settings and the elaborate and detailed design were a show all by themselves.
The holiday season is on our doorstep and Skylight has already extended the planned run of this show until December 27. It’s a perfect show for the entire family and I wouldn’t miss it.
Production credits. Director and Choreographer, Molly Rhode; Music Director, Bill Busch; Lighting and Scenic Designer, Peter Dean Beck; Costume Designer, Jason Orlenko; Sound Designer, Zack Berinstein; Production Stage Manager, Daniel J. Hanson; Production Photographer, Mark Frohna.