Monday, December 10, 2012

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.


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