UPBroadway: A night to remember with “Annie” at Playhouse Square

Spoilers ahead for “Annie” on Broadway.

Courtesy of the University Program Board UPBroadway lottery, we embarked on a trip to the beloved Playhouse Square on March 21, hitching a ride on a yellow school bus with our tickets in hand. Excitedly, we skipped up the stairs to our balcony seats at the Connor Palace, which offered a splendid view of the stage and even part of the orchestral pit.

As avid classical music devotees, we immediately distinguished the trumpet, piccolo and violin amongst the accompaniment. The harmonies served a dual purpose as they were, somehow, both melancholic and hopeful. Perhaps our background from previous “Annie” productions served as a cognitive mold for these musical theatricalities.

Taking place in 1933 in the wake of the Great Depression, the onset of economic disaster in the play affects just about everyone in New York City. At the Hudson Street Orphanage run by Miss Hannigan (Stefanie Londino), Annie (Rainier Treviño) and her friends find solace in one another. Miss Hannigan’s inhumane treatment of the orphans, which only gets worse with the trying times, is hard to bear—although Londino’s enigmatic temperament infuses a mysterious charm to her character. Annie remains boldly hopeful that she will find her mother and father one day, holding fast to her letter and locket—the other half presumably residing with them.

Act 1 (December 11-19) begins by introducing us to orphan Molly (Jade Smith), whose explosive energy and sly comebacks were already enough to put smiles on our faces. Treviño embodied the true heart of Annie as she sang “Maybe” with the vocal stability of a longstanding professional singer despite being just 11 years old. The execution of her line, “Their one mistake was giving up me,” was a real gut-wrenching moment. Following the classic “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” Annie escapes from the orphanage and finds herself face-to-face with a stray dog, Sandy (Seamus), who is drawn to Annie at first sight. This potentially foreshadows a parallel of the events to follow as Oliver Warbucks’ (Christopher Swan) secretary, Ms. Grace Farrell (Julia Nicole Hunter), knocks on the orphanage’s door, looking for a child to be sponsored by the billionaire Mr. Warbucks for the Christmas season. Annie’s devious schemes convince Ms. Farrell to choose her. As Annie is hastened away to the Warbucks Mansion, the other orphans cheer her on while Miss Hannigan suffers from unreasonable agony.

In “N.Y.C,” Hunter’s soprano tone is polished and clear as a whistle, allowing her to maneuver melodies to her advantage. Her motherly presence pairs well with that of Mr. Warbucks, who seems outwardly stern but really does have a heart of mush. As Annie finds family amongst those who aren’t her biological parents, she inevitably enters uncharted, puzzling territory.

At the orphanage, a plot hatches between Miss Hannigan’s delinquent brother Rooster (Jeffrey T. Kelly), his high-pitched girlfriend Lily (Samantha Stevens) and Miss Hannigan herself to impersonate Annie’s parents. Kelly encapsulates Rooster as both naïve and dangerous—a rigorous combination to achieve, but one accomplished nonetheless, as confirmed by audible gasps in the audience. Furthermore, the remarkable ability of Stevens to switch between her speaking and singing voice is impressive and annoying at the same time. As the three gleefully sang and danced to “Easy Street,” we knew we shouldn’t have been grinning, but they just seemed like such a happy family.

We were then whisked to Act 2 (December 21-25) where Annie and Mr. Warbucks plead her case to the nation through a radio channel, offering a $50,000 reward for her parents. The monotone delivery of Mr. Warbucks’ script was all too hilarious, bringing levity to the scene. The Boylan sisters (Savannah Fisher, Kaylie Mae Wallace and Caroline Glazier) showcase a lovely rendition of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” while immaculately dressed in 1930s evening gowns; their voices meshed together beautifully, resembling the chirps of birds in the morning.

Mr. Warbucks fully flexes his government affiliations to find Annie’s parents, even bringing Annie to Washington, D.C. where they meet President FDR (Mark Woodard) during a cabinet assembly. The session quickly devolves into frustration, to the point where FDR insists everyone sing a reprise of “Tomorrow.” After all, what could be more endearing than public officials breaking out into song? With this newfound optimism, FDR and the cabinet members triumphantly declare the New Deal. Never in our lives have we seen such buoyancy in a bureaucratic decision. Despite the incentives, the search fails, and Annie reluctantly gives up. Mr. Warbucks, having developed such fondness for Annie, asks Annie if he can adopt her. “I Don’t Need Anything But You” is a tribute to their relationship and was an absolute tear-jerker for us, especially when the viola joined in to blend with Swan’s solemn baritone timbre.

Thankfully, Annie accepts Warbucks’ adoption request, and the entire mansion staff hold an impromptu celebration. Admittedly, it was odd at first to enter the festive holiday atmosphere in March, but it was quickly embraced as the exuberant decorations and outfits reeled the audience into the Christmas spirit. But just in the nick of time, a highly favorable trajectory utterly plummets. “Mr. and Mrs. Mudge” (Rooster and Lily in disguise) make an appearance with a convincing story and the other half of Annie’s locket—the latter of which completely tips the scales in their favor.

Though the tide is nigh, Ms. Farrell’s vigilance saves the day. By the next morning, the “Mudges” and Miss Hannigan are incriminated thanks to Mr. Warbucks’ elaborate law enforcement networks. We breathed a huge sigh of relief—though we were already aware of the ending, the consistently phenomenal acting roused our emotional investment for the entirety of the show.

For the finale, Annie is revealed as Annie Bennett … although she also finds out her parents had passed away long ago. However, her maturity enables her to accept their deaths and cherish the time she has now with her friends and family—a lesson we can all learn. Mr. Warbucks’ line sums up “Annie” and his own character arc well: “I don’t need sunshine now to turn my skies to blue.”

Everything about “Annie” was sensational, including the costume and set design, comedic exclamations and even the integration of implicit societal dilemmas. Playhouse Square is set to announce their 2024-2025 KeyBank Broadway Series schedule on April 16, and we highly encourage you to indulge in a show if you’re able to—we certainly didn’t regret a single moment of this experience.

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