It’s a Hard-Knock Life to be a poor orphan during The Great Depression. Especially when you’ve got Miss Hannigan bossing you about the orphanage. But when little orphan Annie gets herself picked to spend a week at billionaire Daddy Warbucks house, her gray and lonely days are about to see some rays of sunshine in this popular musical adaptation of the old comic strip heroine.

Desert Stages brings it to their in-the-round Scottsdale stage, with Bill Atkinson directing a very fun and entertaining production of it. There are four different casts, with Haley Cohn starring in the title role of the performance I caught. Haley has a strong voice with which she knocks out her lullaby Maybe and belts out the song’s immortal hit Tomorrow. And she amuses with her concerted efforts to get noticed by Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell, with Shayna Moellenberg capturing a sweet, deeply caring sincerity that fits Grace perfectly. Bill Atkinson does very well as Oliver/Daddy Warbucks with some nice vocals and gentleness as Annie easily melts down his heart.

Then there are the colorful evil characters that surround poor Annie. Megan Mahoney is a Miss Hannigan barely clinging to what’s left of her sanity, featuring a strong voice, great comedy, and a passion for men – flirting with everyone from laundry man Mr. Bundles (Mason Waaler) to the president of the United States (Jack Brenner, who doesn’t mind the flirting too much). Her flirting with President Roosevelt gets to the point that Warbucks’ butler Drake has to provide some secret service protection, at which point she quickly falls in love with Drake (Christopher Allen). Her brother Rooster is played by Tanner Van Parys who makes for a good seedy and sleazy criminal as he leads his sis and his gal down the road to Easy Street. His gal is Lily St. Regis, featuring a hysterical performance by Haley Johnson as the very ditzy Lily with terrific use of voice and body language, and who amuses herself playing with a decapitated dolly, looks for the Hannigans’ departed mother said to be “down there” by checking out the bottom of her heels for residue, and looks “up there” to see if the sky is falling after Miss Hannigan slaps the ditz on the back of her head.

Elsewhere, Sam Primack is a kick as a small but charismatic Bert Healy leading his radio show with The Boylan Sisters. Jetta Juriansz’s microphone cut out for her Star-to-Be solo in NYC, but she still sung well (and kudos to the sound guy for promptly turning down the volume on the background music). Connor Baker makes for a dutiful Lt. Ward trying to control a feisty Annie, and equally dutiful is Fozzie Bear Ref as the stray dog Sandy who goes to Annie when called.

And then there’s the great group of orphans. They also nail the Never Fully Dressed reprise with great singing and great attitude (including each soloisi pushing each previous soloist out of the way like prima donna Boylan Sisters). And Elizabeth Johnston as little Molly turns in a tough-as-nails Miss Hannigan impersonation as the kids put on a fantastic Hard-Knock Life number complete with some Stomp-style action using their wash pails. Together they help make the show shine as bright as the top of the Chrysler building.

Performs November 21 - December 21, 2008

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Molly: Elizabeth Johnston
Annie: Haley Cohn
Pepper: Carly Evans
July: Camille Roth
Duffy: Alicia McCullough
Kate: Monica Madden
Tessie: Megan Lehrer
Miss Hannigan: Megan Mahoney
Mr. Bundles: Mason Waaler
Lt. Ward: Connor Baker
Grace Farrell: Shayna Moellenberg
Drake: Christopher Allen
Cecile: Lauryn Martin
Mrs. Greer: Katharine Greer
Annette: Elizabeth Taylor
Mrs. Pugh: Heather Stephan
Oliver Warbucks: Bill Atkinson
Rooster Hannigan: Tanner Van Parys
Lily St. Regis: Haley Johnson
Star to Be: Jetta Juriansz
Bert Healy: Sam Primack
The Boylan Sisters:
Lauren Thorell
Charlie Kate Harper
Devon Prokopek
Libby Willis
Lindsey Jung
Sophia Matin
Lauren Primack
Katie Brown
Lillie Irvin
Ligaya Manalastas
FDR: Jack Brenner
Apple Seller: Fila Elton
Frannie: Shahla Croneberger
Sophie: Clare Zenk
Dog Catcher: Donovan Tomlinson
Sandy: Fozzie Bear Ref
Warbucks' Staff/Hobo/NYC:
Ellie Barget
Ashleigh Edwards
Julia Wanger
Shoshana Dubnow
Greta Perlmutter
Rachel Robbins
Marina Shapiro
Erin Tarkington
Lauren Thompson
Lauren Zenk
Hudson Girls:
Annie Barget
Ellie Barget
Jaislyn Bishop
Mia Dwyer-Kim
Bryn Heidbreder
Mitra Matin
Sarah Pansing
Kailie Plotnik
Emily Sara Ref
Vayda Sarpy
Savanah Tate
Gracie Tomlinson
Madison Waaler

Director: Bill Atkinson
Choreographer: Tiffany Atkinson
Musical Director: Terry Temple
Set Design: Andrew Witcher


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