New American Theater celebrates the holidays with Annie

New American Theater celebrates the holidays with Annie

By Edith McCauley, Theater Critic

The decision to stage Annie as the holiday show gives the audiences a real treat, and as Richard Raether and Mary Beavers announced before the opening, it promises to be the most financially successful production in the history of NAT. The combination of a great musical score, familiar songs, a cast of charming orphans, two Annies, and an ensemble that surpasses any seen here on stage, produces a musical equal to many Broadway productions.

Alternating in the role of Annie are Jordan Lindvall and Rachel Bohn. Both students at Lutheran, they come to the stage with enthusiasm and talent. Jordan’s professional credits include several shows at the Clock Tower and a variety of community events. Experience enables her to portray the 11-year-old Annie convincingly and with assurance. Rachel, in her first NAT role, gives a more child-like interpretation, and she will grow tremendously as she receives more opportunities. Because of the schedule, the young people were double cast. Attending both the preview opening and the official opening last Friday, we saw all the participants. They are wonderful. As Tessie, Jasmine L. Howell fairly bounces around the stage with a comedic ability not often seen in one so young. Her interaction with Miss Hannigan never fails to evoke laughter.

Speaking of Miss Hannigan, Margaret Raether is having the time of her life as the wicked caretaker of the unfortunate orphans. Joining her as the bad guys are Peter Anderson as Rooster and Beth Hallaren as Lily St. Regis. Anderson and Hallaren, both former Clock Tower players, form a trio with Raether in “Easy Street,” a bouncy up-number, choreographed beautifully by Cyndi Conley. Another alumni of Clock Tower, Charla Mason, plays Grace Farrell, secretary to Oliver Warbucks. Mason played the lead in last season’s Wait Until Dark. Seeing her as Grace Farrell, we can appreciate her lovely voice clearly rising above her co-actors. An interjection: In Act II, Costume Designers Nicholas Hartman and W. Alan Williams have created for her an absolutely gorgeous, open-backed, royal blue, satin gown. She wears it well.

Compliments to John Timothy McFarland as the wealthy Oliver Warbucks. His commanding presence on stage is perfect for his role as the molder of presidents and their cabinets. Tender interaction with both Rachel and Jordan exemplifies not only his acting ability, but an innate feeling for the young actresses. Dan Rodden, as President Roosevelt tilting his head at exactly the precise angle with cigarette holder pointed skyward, recalls the man who brought us through the Depression.

An exceptional ensemble supports and enriches the production. Playing a variety of roles, their opening number, “Hooverville,” presages an excellent evening of music and song. Speaking with Keith Conway following opening, he expressed his delight with his co-workers and that so many of them were local talent.

Lydia Berger, Aleida Frometa-Preval, Makeesha Sharp, Christine Swan, Keith Conway, Nicky Bertolino, Joel T. Herbst and Jordan Reeves comprise the ensemble and fill every role to perfection, and, as Conway said, “We’re having fun.” His best number, “Without a Smile,” with Sharp, Swan and Berger as a trio of radio stars, is reprised by the orphans.

“Little Orphan Annie,” created in 1924 by Harold Gray, was part of my childhood. In the Sunday comics and on the radio, I followed her adventures enthusiastically. My only disappointment was that her sponsor, Ovaltine, did not fit into our family budget, so I never got that wonderful decoder ring. Strong female characters ware not often seen. How fortunate that another little girl could be my role model.

Annie plays through Dec. 29. It’s a strenuous schedule for the cast and crew, but they’re definitely up to it. Some shows are already sold out, so call soon for tickets—815-964-6282.

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