For a quarter of a century, young girls have taken the stage in the role of Little Orphan Annie and belted out "Tomorrow" to the delight of audiences ranging from high-paying Broadway first nighters to families and friends in school auditoriums. Now add to the list fourth-grader Rebecca Wheeler, who is Annie in the show by that name at the Aldersgate Church Community Theater production playing weekends through July 10.
Wheeler follows the approach that has been so successful for others ever since Andrea McArdle first tore up the Kennedy Center Opera House with a "stand and deliver" delivery that allows no distractions from the clear, strong voice. She works well with her colleagues, both the human actors as well as the dog playing "Sandy" that can be a bit unpredictable when off his leash.
The human colleagues include Teddy Gron as the billionaire "Daddy Warbucks" who wants to adopt young Annie to fill a space in his heart that can't be satisfied with wealth and Marie Wakefield as the mean-spirited matron of the Orphanage where Warbucks' secretary, played nicely by Christine Nixon, goes to get an orphan to spend the holidays in the Warbucks' mansion. Wakefield makes the comedy of her constant nipping at a bottle and complaining about her fate work by turning up the energy level as well as the volume, especially on her big number "Little Girls."
Nine young girls play the residents of the orphanage. They work together as an ensemble quite well and each develops an individual personality, especially during the up-tempo "Hard Knock Life" which has them banging brooms, brushes and pails to a syncopated rhythm.
NOT ALL THE CAST are adults or little girls. Jon Poole, made up as "Wacky," a dummy sits on a ventriloquist's lap to deliver his lines in the radio program scene in act II. Dru Vander-Linden directs this production with a no-nonsense approach to storytelling but keeps the pace just a bit slow, especially in the comic dialogue scenes between the songs. Jeff Taylor is the music director and he follows a similar pace for the musical numbers performed in the original arrangements/orchestrations of Philip J. Lang.
The songs by Martin Charnin, who directed the original production on Broadway, and Charles Strouse, who wrote the music for "Bye Bye Birdie," among others, are all very tuneful and fit their slots in the story extremely well. From the legendary "Tomorrow" to "N.Y.C.," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" and the title song, they are like old friends for most theater-goers.
The script is by Thomas Meehan and only loosely based on Harold Gray's comic strip that was so popular during the Depression. Meehan, co-author with Mel Brooks of the musical version of "The Producers" and with Mark O'Donnell of the musical "Hairspray," knows very well how to structure a story to get to and from the big musical moments.
The Warbucks mansion for this production is a fairly substantial set using the back wall of the stage while the orphanage set is a roll-on door frame with a desk and beds, depending on the particular scene. It is a functional design that lets the show move along without excessive delays between scenes.
The 14-piece orchestra is located in the audience section of the hall, up against two cinderblock walls which act as highly reflective surfaces for the music. It makes the accompaniment too loud for many of the singers on stage to compete against, so the show is easier to follow from the right side of the hall, opposite the orchestra.
WHERE & WHEN
"Annie" plays Friday - Saturday at 8 p.m. through July 10 with 3 p.m. matinees on July 4 and 5 at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 1301 Collingwood Drive. Tickets are $12 - $15 and can be purchased online at www.presaleticketing.com or by phone at 703-799-7061.