Monday, December 10, 2012

Genesius’ ‘Annie’ is a holiday gift for musical theater lovers

By Cheryl Thornburg

Genesius Theatre’s holiday production, “Annie” is sold out and deservedly so. A cast filled with first-class singers makes the memorable music even more memorable. Creative set and lighting designs set the tone and atmosphere of the 1930s where Annie, an orphan in New York City, again steals the hearts of those both on stage and in the audience.
Grace Gleason plays Annie with just the right spunk and delivers Annie’s songs “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” with a clear, sweet soprano. She also handled one of the foibles of live theater like a pro, when Tucker, playing the lovable dog, Sandy, wasn’t exactly cooperative during her solo “Tomorrow.”
As is to be expected, the orphans are at the heart of the show with the upbeat numbers “Hard Knock Life,” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” Annie’s friends include Sophia Mattes as Pepper, Grace Harmon as Duffy, Alex Goshert as July, Kennedi Kutz as Tessie, Nina Botvin as Kate, and Emerson Gagnon as Molly, the littlest orphan. Molly’s one-liners endear her to the audience instantly.
Though they are front and center in the dance numbers, they are backed up by an ensemble of young actors including Lydia Botterbusch, Mikaela Christie, Joelle Eckert, Kendalyn Judd, Hunter Miller, Haven Miller, Frances Ronning, Isabella Siegel, Julia Weaver, Abby White, and Kat Ziolkowski.
Strong performances from the adult leads give this production its musical framework, from the powerful vocals by Jim Rule as the very wealthy Oliver Warbucks to the softer, elegant vocals of Katie Ott as Grace Farrell, to the over-the-top numbers by Christina Ferlazzo as Miss Hannigan the meanest orphanage matron ever.
Rule and Ott are particularly effective in “N.Y.C.” a number that is sometimes overlooked in comparison to other songs in the show.
Ferlazzo, along with Alex Krick as Rooster Hannigan and Cecilia Cooper as Lily St. Regis are hilarious in the now-classic number “Easy Street.” The three are not only talented vocalists, but also fine comedic actors.
Not to be outdone, Stan Durlak demonstrates his comedic skills as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Two things that set this production apart are the strong vocal ensemble, and some high-tech lighting and video effects.
Whether performing as homeless people, in “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover,” or Oliver Warbucks’ servants in “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here, ” the ensemble actors make the most of every number.
The 1930s videos created a wonderful prelude to the show and an ingenious screen with a lighted, stylized outline of high-rise buildings, kept the unseen, but always important, orchestra out of view.
The remaining cast includes Dean Ficthorn, Chris Eckert, Kyle Schumaker, Jon browning, Randy Gerber, Becca Snyder, Carl Wolfe, Amy Bourey, Emily Fitzpatrick, Laura Stewart, Jeannie Weaver, Colin Presby, Brianna Christie, Emly Fitzparick, Pat Rehr, Elaina Gleason, Kelly Knapper, Molly Knapper, Pat Malarkey, Morgan Reppert, Gabi Taormina, and Heather Troxell.
The show is directed by Christopher Sperat, music directed by Kevin Cooper, choreographed by Amanda Guistwite and Megan Tice, with assistance from Hope O’Pake and Michael Roman; costume designed by Laura Judd, Cathy Miller and Allison White; lighting designed by Spencer Moss Fecho and L J Fecho; set designed by L J Fecho and Kyle Feltenberger; scenic art by Jessica Reber, Kaitlin Reber and Marjory Ewald; stage managed by Kathi Christie; produced by L J Fecho. with video projections by Jordan Baylor.
The show runs through Dec,. 16 at the Tenth and Walnut theater, but as I mentioned, even with adding two performances, the show is sold out.
Coming up next at Genesius is “Sunset Boulevard” Feb. 15 to 24.
To keep up with what’s happening with Genesius, visit the website at

Steel River’s ‘Annie’ will cheer up even the grumpiest Grinch

Kirk Lawrence as Daddy Warbucks, Lauren Esser as Annie and Erika Strasburg ss Grace Farrell. Photos by John Daggett
By Cheryl Thornburg

For most of us, all you have to do is mention the title  “Annie” and the song “Tomorrow” pops into your head  -- and stays there. And Steel River Playhouse’s Lauren Esser as Annie delivers it with upbeat passion and contagious enthusiasm.
Esser shares the role with Anna Rosenthal, who plays Annie on alternate nights. Several other children’s roles are double cast.  This review is from the Friday Dec. 7th performance which featured Julia Maenza as Tessie, Sarah Pennington as Duffy, Isabella Rota-Talarico as July, Ashley West as Pepper, Joy Ann Wolfe as Kate, and Riley Keenan as Molly, the littlest orphan and biggest scene-stealer in the show. With every line she delivers, she also steals the hearts of the audience.
The orphans really shine in “Hard Knock Life” and in the second act with “Fully Dressed.” 
The show's other scene-stealer is Sunshine, a trained therapy dog, who makes his stage debut as Annie's dog, Sandy.

Some of the "orphans" in rehearsal
For those who somehow have not heard the story (here might be 3 or 4 in the country), ‘Annie”  Is based on a comic strip about a feisty, red-headed orphan who believes her parents are coming back to retrieve her from the city orphanage in New York City.  Her world  ( and other people’s) changes when she is  chosen to spend the holidays with the billionaire, Oliver Warbucks.
Not to be totally upstaged by the young actors, the grown-ups in this show turn in some dynamite performances. 

Kirk Lawrence as Daddy Warbucks makes the transition from the stern and distant billionaire to the warm and generous benefactor with subtle ease as Annie captures his heart. He shows off not only his acting ability, but also vocal talent in numbers such as “I Don’t Need Anything But You.”

Donna Dougherty is really good at being really bad as Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage. Dougherty has taken on many memorable roles, and with Miss Hannigan, proves she is arguably the best comedic actress in the area. Adding to the hilarity are Scott Minor as Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s  con-artist brother,  and Liz Maurer sa Lily, his new girlfriend, Their trio “Easy Street” is one of the highpoints  of the show.

Erika Strasburg brings superb vocals and sophistication to the role of Grace Farrell, Mr. Warbucks’ assistant and Michael Long, pulls off some political humor as President Franklin Roosevelt.

Al Ulozas turns in two fine comedic performances as Bundles, the laundryman, and Bert Healy the radio show host.

In addition to Anna Rosenthal, other double-cast orphans are Rachael McVey as Molly, Kennedy Kollar as Kate, Kyraen Bittner as Tessie, Molly Hofstaedter as Duffy, Kendall Bowden as Pepper, and Olivia Swenson as July.
Other members of this large and talented cast are Amanda Morrell, Michelle English, Emily Weaverm Alyssa Miller, Zach Reynolds, Ben Helmer, David Helmer, Josh Crocetto, Holly Hoover, Troy Cooper, Pete Norris, Chuck Gallagher, and Charles Delaney.
The show is directed  by Ken Kaisser, with musical direction by Deborah Stimson-Snow, choreography by Michelle Wurtz. Barbara Newberry conducted the orchestra. Though the orchestra is unseen, Jake Sholly opened the show onstage in period costume with a trumpet solo that set the tone for what was to come.

Remaining performances of  “Annie” are Thursdays (Dec.  13 and  20 at 7:30 p.m.), Fridays (Dec. 14 and 21 at 8 p.m.), Saturday (Dec. 22, at 3 p.m. and at 8 p.m.) and Sundays (Dec. 16 and 23 at 3 p.m.) The theater, formerly known as the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, is located at 245 E. High St. in Pottstown
Ticket prices are: Adult, $26 ($23 on Thursdays); Senior (65+), $23 ($20 on Thursdays); Student/Child, $17, ($15 on Thursdays); and groups of 10 or more – $3 off per ticket.
For more information or to order tickets, visit, or call 610-970-1199.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On stage in December

Pines Dinner Theatre, 448 N. 17th St., Allentown (610-433-2333) presents “The Miracle of Christmas,” through Dec. 30.


Act II Playhouse, Ambler presents Oh, What Fun!Dec. 11-30, 2012   (215-654-0200) or

"Murray the Elf and the Case of the Missing Mistletoe" DEC, 14-23.
Murray the Elf has been called to the North Pole by Mrs. Claus to solve “The Case of the Missing Mistletoe.” But things in Toyland are never what they appear to be. Two hilarious actors play all the roles - including a reindeer, a snowman and the bewitching Candy Kane - in this new family adventure that mixes mystery with comedy. Tickets: $8 for kids,  $12 for adults ($10 for subscribers)Designed for children ages 5-12 and their families. Running Time: Approximately an hour, including pre-show sing-along and post-show discussion with actors  Please note: This show is general seating, rather than assigned seating.


Act 1 presents “A Christmas Story," a Christmas classic by Phil Grecian based on the motion picture written by Jean Shepheard, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark, through Dec. 9, at DeSales University Center for Performing Arts, 2755 Station Ave, Center Valley, PA 18034 (610-282-3192)


Ephrata Performing Arts Center's Sharadin-Bigler Theater, Cocalico Street, Ephrata (717-733-7966) presents " Anything Goes” Cole Porter's evergreen classic family musical comedy Dec.  6 - 22


Arcadia University’s theater program presents "On the Verge," through Dec. 9.
The theater is located at Spruance Fine Arts Center, 450 S. Easton Road, Glenside. For more information call 215-572-2112 or visit 


People’s Light & Theatre, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern (610-644-3500) presents  “This Wonderful Life,”  a one-man performance of the beloved Christmas story, through Dece. 23. Audiences are encouraged to join the artists for a conversation about the production after the Thursday performances on December 6, 13 and 20. Single tickets: $35 adults, $25 youth. For tickets, call  610.644.3500. For more information go to


The Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, presents "War Horse" through Dec. 2. The Box Office is open daily from 10 a.m. to  6 p.m. The Call Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 215-893-1999 to purchase tickets by phone. Visit for more information.
Walnut Street Theatre presents the classic “The  Music Man” through Jan. 6 on the WST main stage. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available online 24/7 by visiting or Ticketmaster.


Steel River Playhouse  presents “Annie,”  a uniquely American story about survival, pluck, second chances, generosity and triumph, opens Dec, 6 on the main stage at the theater, 245 E.  High St. Performances are Thursdays, (Dec. 6, 13, 20 at 7:30 p.m.), Fridays (Dec.  7, 14, 21 at 8 p.m.), Saturday (Dec. 22, at 3 p.m.) Saturdays (Dec. 8, 22 at 8 p.m.) and Sundays (Dec. 9, 16, 23 at 3 p.m.) Tickets for the Dec. 22 matinee may not be currently available due to a large group order, but please  check back after Dec. 6 if this is your only available date .
Ticket Prices              
Adult  –             $26  ($23 on Thurs.)
Senior (65+)  –   23  ($20  on Thurs.)
Student/Child – 17   ($15 on Thurs)

Special Event: Sunday, Dec, 9 – Talkback with the director and cast.  An opportunity for audience members to ask questions. For more information, call 610-970-1199 or go to


Genesius Theatre presents “Annie” Friday, Dec,  7 at 8 p.m. and runs Dec.  8, 14 and 15 at 8 p.m., as well. It also performs on Sunday, Dec.  9 and 16 at 3 p.m., and on Special Mid-Week Discount Nights - Wednesday/Thursday, Dec, 12 & 13 at 7 p.m. at Genesius Theatre, 153 Walnut St. (10th and Walnut). In Reading To purchase tickets with all major credit cards and get more information please visit our web site at or call 610-373-9500 to purchase tickets with credit cards only. If you need more information please contact the theater at 610-371-8151. Tickets range from $15  to $25 and credit card fees apply.  Genesius Theatre is handicap accessible and there is free parking aside of the theater (limited space available). Many shows are sold out, so order tickets soon,

 Broadway on Sixth Street Series presents “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 26 at Sovereign Performing Arts Center, 136 N. Sixth St. (800-745-3000)

Playcrafters of Skippack present "A Grand Night for Singing” by Rodgers and Hammerstein): Dec. 7 through Dec. 16  at 2011 Store Road, Skippack, (610-584-4005)

To have your production listed here, email information to Cheryl Thornburg at