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Annie

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In the 1920s, when cartoonist Harold Gray initially sketched Little Orphan Annie, the comic strip was targeted toward children. But, as readership increased to include parents and other grown-ups, Gray soon changed the aim of the column. Eventually the saga of the little red-headed orphan girl would be more about social commentary than comedy for the kiddies. Indeed, Gray had a Libertarian streak in him that emerged as a subliminal political message in the characters and situations of "Little Orphan Annie."

For example, Gray's resistance to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs was evident when he "killed-off" the Daddy Warbucks persona in protest to FDR's big government schemes. Subsequent to Roosevelt's death in 1945, Warbucks was resurrected in the strip. In fact, the column continued until Gray's death in the late 1960s.

A decade later, however, the Little Orphan storyline was turned into a plotline for Annie the musical--which made its Broadway debut in April of 1977 (the age of Jimmy Carter's talk of "malaise"). The show went on to garner Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Thomas Meehan), and Best Original Score (Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin)--to mention only three wins out of a grand total of seven. What's more, child actor Andrea McArdle became the youngest performer to ever be nominated for a Tony Award as Lead Actress in a Musical.

Now, Annie is onstage in a pert and pertinent Musical Theatre West production at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. And, in a clever casting coup, Andrea McArdle is appearing in Annie once again. This time, however, it's not as the title character; rather, McArdle is playing (with great relish) the despicably haggish Miss Hannigan--an orphanage matron.

Directed by Steven Glaudini--with appropriate comedic choreography by Roger Castellano and capable musical direction by Daniel Thomas--MTW's "Annie" is in-the-moment fun without being in-your-face philosophically. In fourteen song and dance routines spread out over two acts (at a running time of nearly two and-a-half hours) this Annie--with its dozen and-a-half exuberant performers, and two scene-snatching dogs (all supported by an energetic multi-piece orchestra)--is sheer entertainment.

Though Annie is a tale of desperate times in the Great Depression, the overriding message of the show is one of hopeful optimism. Kudos to Melody Hollis' embodiment of this pint-sized protagonist. When Hollis belts out "Tomorrow" assuring us that it's only "A day away," we as an audience are brought into the now by this 12 year-old triple-threat performer.

Accolades are also well earned by the corps of child actors: Jenna Rosen as Duffy, Paige Befeler as July, Alexa Freeman as Pepper, Maddison Milledge as Tessie, Danielle Soibelman as Kate, and Grace Kaufman as Molly. Each is a consummate player. What's more, when they all chime in to sing "(It's A) Hard Knock Life," cuteness reigns melodically.

Further, the journeyman contributions of Bets Malone as the droll Lily St. Regis; the wholesome Shannon Ware as Grace Farrell; the uproarious Michael Paternostro as con-man Rooster Hannigan; and, as the salient Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks, the formidable Jeff Austin (sporting, of course, a shiny bald pate).

The cityscape set design, appearing to encompass the girth of 1930s Manhattan Island, is provided by Theater of the Stars, from Pittsburgh's Civic Light Opera Construction Center for the Arts. It shows the Big Apple from various perspectives, including a hardscrabble orphanage, a "Hooverville" shanty town, and a richie-rich mansion on the Upper Eastside.

To experience this delightful iteration of Annie, don't wait until tomorrow. Do reserve today.

Show times for Annie are at 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday. Matinees are Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 East Atherton Street, Long Beach. To purchase tickets (hurry, the show ends Nov. 14), contact Musical Theatre West at (562) 856 - 1999, ext. 4. For online ticketing, visit www.musical.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.