‘Annie’ is delightful holiday gift from Civic Theatre

December 4, 2018

Combined, the story and music of “Annie” are so popular with audiences that it would be easy for a community theater to put on a simple production and be happy with the reception.

That’s not what Rochester Civic Theatre and director Lee Gundersheimer have delivered with the holiday production of “Annie” that opened last Friday. From ace choreography to spectacular backdrops, to an amazing array of costumes — and a lot of talented people in the cast — the Civic has pulled out all the stops to deliver a Christmas gift to the community.

It’s a delight to witness the energy on stage during this how. It starts with the talented “orphans” who will win your heart with their singing, their dancing, and their enthusiasm in “Hard Knock Life” at the opening of the show. They give it their all in every scene and it’s easy to read the joy on their faces.

You’ll also be won over by the talents of the father-daughter team of Mark Morrey as Warbucks and Shea Morrey as Annie. Shea holds nothing back as she sings Annie’s signature song, “Tomorrow,” and her dad is touching as the billionaire who finds his heart stolen by this little redhead.

For comic relief there’s Emily Watkins as a saucy Miss Hannigan, and Chad Campbell and Gabrielle Hensrud, who couldn’t be crazier as the scheming couple who claim to be Annie’s parents. These three scoundrels add an extra touch to the “Easy Street” number.

Amanda Ruggeri is graceful as Warbucks’ secretary, and Jim Haase is winning as President Franklin Roosevelt.

The digitally designed backdrops by Kevin Dobbe are a step even beyond the similar work he did previously in “Shrek.” In this case, Dobbe takes us down Fifth Avenue in New York, into the 42nd Street subway station, inside the Warbucks mansion and to a hobo camp. All of it stunning in its detail — note, in particular, the movie posters in the subway station.

The pit orchestra is led by Sarah Wood Lieske, and the choreography is by Ellen Huston. The task of costuming this huge cast is handled by Marco Magno. Doug Sween has designed a set that converts easily from scene to scene.

The list goes on, but the bottom line is that this is a total team effort by the Civic. In return, the theater is being rewarded with sold-out houses for every performance.

The Civic’s “Annie” is a stylish staging of an all-time audience favorite. It sparkles, moves along at a brisk pace and ends up being a delightful offering for the holiday season.

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