Theatre Review: ‘Annie’ at Lancaster Opera House

I’ll be honest – I’ve seen ‘Annie’ more times than I care to admit. Annie is cute, the dog is cute…. it’s all cute. However, I was drawn to the Opera House production based on their renaissance over the past few years. David Bondrow’s development of the resident company has been exciting to watch and it continues to churn out high quality productions – a tradition it continues with its latest production of “Annie.”

This production is definitely worth a trip to the Lancaster Opera House.

“Annie” is based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” and follows a hopeful girl as she dreams of finding her real parents who left her at the orphanage. While she and her friends try to avoid the wrath of Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage, Annie is selected to spend the Christmas holidays in the home of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who opens his heart to Annie.

Tiffany Nowak stars as Annie, and boy, is she a star. Nowak effortlessly belts out the musical’s iconic song, “Tomorrow” soon after a rousing rendition of “It’s the Hard Knock Life” alongside some really talented young actors. Nowak is optimistic and beams happiness and hope. Bondrow, who directed the production, made a stellar choice in casting her.

Tim Hartman steps in as Oliver Warbucks, commanding the stage with his height and deep baritone. He’s vocally strong and comedically stronger. Though it’s clear by his comfort level in this role that he’s done it a few times before, he paired greatly with Nowak and enraptured the opening night crowd.

Chrissy Vogric-Hunnell is Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ secretary. Her soprano voice soars and she brings a classy, bright performance to the stage. She’s especially good in moments alone with Annie and with Warbucks, bringing a little extra focus to their developing relationships.

And then there is Anne DeFazio as Miss Hannigan. Her Miss Hannigan is loud, unstable and visibly cold-hearted, making her a perfect choice for the show’s main villain. Watching her unravel during “Little Girls” is delightful, as well as seeing her scheme alongside her brother Rooster (a smarmy Marc Sacco) and his dim-witted arm candy Lily St. Regis (a delightfully annoying Meghan Cobham) in “Easy Street.”

The adult ensemble is vocally outstanding, ensuring that the less familiar songs and scenes from the musical are just as worth watching as the iconic ones. Particularly charming is Ricky Needham’s appearances as President Franklin Roosevelt. While I’m not quite sure why his character voice drifts to a British dialect at times, he makes the character larger than life and leads an impressive multi-part harmony in one of the “Tomorrow” reprises with members of his cabinet. Nathan Andrew Miller also transforms a character of few words, Drake (Warbucks’ butler) into a memorable, chuckle-inducing performance.

Before this production, I’ve never bothered to notice choreography in any production of “Annie,” but Heather Reed’s work here is delightful. It is memorable and fun, playing up the best bits of every song.

While initially I wasn’t a fan of David Dwyer’s static set, I soon fell in love with its versatility thanks to the texture and color choices he made as well as the use of the New York City skyline as a frame for each of the doors and wall panels.

Tiffany Nowak’s bright-eyed and vocally impressive “Annie” is surrounded by an incredible ensemble well worth the price of a ticket. This production is definitely worth a trip to the Lancaster Opera House.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and twenty minutes including a fifteen minute intermission

“Annie” runs through June 24th at Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.