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Annie’s optimism permeates Woodbridge’s production

Edgar McKewen-Moreno, a student at James Madison High School, reviews “Annie” performed by Woodbridge Senior High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

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Taylor Murphy, Eric George, Kara Hollis, Brandon Boling and Martin Owusu from Woodbridge Senior High School. (Photo by Lisa Mathalon)

Optimism is an intensely powerful force. The undying belief that one can succeed has been the driving force behind many of history's greatest stories. “Annie” is one of the best and most well-known examples of those stories, and Woodbridge Senior High School's production of the classic musical lived up to the long-lasting standard set by the original story.

The story is based on Harold Gray's comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” which detailed the exploits of the eponymous, fearless and seemingly pupil-less heroine. The 1977 musical by Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, quickly turned into a cultural force. “Annie” set the record for the longest-running show at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway, and also won seven Tony Awards. The songs have become among the most well-known pieces of Broadway history, being referenced in everything from Superbowl ads to "Austin Powers." The story of Annie's search for her parents and her relentless optimism in the face of the exploits of cruel Miss Hannigan is one that has been loved by audiences for generations.

Among the show's most notable qualities was its ability to allow ensemble members to shine. Brittany Carpenter was easily one of the show’s "small stars," carrying some songs with her powerful voice. Kelli Hutchinson, armed with her own fantastic smile and an obvious dedication to her robust character, served as a strong focal point during many scenes and songs.

There were some occasional issues, however, that detracted from the story. Diction problems and a lack of projection, while not present during songs, were noticeable during dialogue exchanges. Projection issues coupled with unreliable microphones led many actors to get drowned out by the musicians. However, the chorus was always together, maintaining tight, loud harmonies and simple, synchronized dancing.

Makeup was simple yet effective, adding to the show and allowing for the actors’ faces to be clearly defined. The Woodbridge Senior High School Orchestra always managed to keep in time with the actors, an impressive feat, but occasionally at the cost of pitch.

The show's singers were not only talented, but also consistent. The chorus never overpowered a soloist, and the soloists, in turn, never monopolized the focus—a difficult yet impressive balance to strike. Eric George as Oliver Warbucks and Brandon Boling as both FDR and Burt Healy each maintained commanding stage presence through their powerful, full-bodied voices. Some singers lost volume on higher notes due to a reliance on their head voice, but they—nonetheless—projected the rest of their lyrics powerfully and with feeling.

Acting was carried by strong choices, exemplified by Rachel Sowinski's powerful comedic facial expressions as Lilly, and Greta Goesch's over-the-top drinking and reactions. Both actresses received consistent laughs from the audience. Some actors displayed a lack of commitment to their choices, preventing a deeper connection to the characters and the story. Still, most actors knew their characters and the direction they wanted to go with them: from Kara Hollis's ever-hopeful and honest attitude as Annie to Jordan Mathalon's dead-on accent as Rooster.

This production was one made up of individual shining moments strung together, letting plenty of actors showcase their abilities. By working through some of their challenges, the cast and crew of Woodbridge not only gave a worthwhile rendition of “Annie,” but they also embodied the lead character’s infectious optimism.

By Edgar McKewen-Moreno, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  April 15, 2010; 6:28 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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