Musical blockbuster 'Annie' works on intimate scale at Citadel

  • Annie (Kayla Norris) sings "Tomorrow" after rescuing Sandy on the mean streets of Depression-era New York. "Annie" continues at Citadel Theatre Company in Lake Forest through Sunday, Jan. 5.

    Annie (Kayla Norris) sings "Tomorrow" after rescuing Sandy on the mean streets of Depression-era New York. "Annie" continues at Citadel Theatre Company in Lake Forest through Sunday, Jan. 5. Courtesy of Carolina Menapace/Citadel Theatre Company

 
 
Posted11/28/2019 6:00 AM

"Annie" -- ★ ★ ★

A hallmark of a great musical is its ability to survive and thrive when staged in venues both massive and minuscule. Having only seen grand national tours and one major regional production of "Annie," I was curious how the 1977 Broadway musical blockbuster would work in the cozy confines of Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I needn't have worried about the tale of a scrappy comic-strip orphan who sings of a better "Tomorrow." "Annie" has such a solid script by Thomas Meehan and a smart score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin that you don't need grand sets to get to its heart.

What you do need are a dedicated cast and crew. And Citadel Theatre largely has that for "Annie."

Director Robert D. Estrin has taken a page from both the 1999 Disney TV version and the modernized 2014 movie remake of "Annie" to be more inclusive in casting the Depression-era show. He has also double-cast the orphans, so even more little girls get a chance to perform in the iconic family musical.

At times, however, the extended ensemble would have benefited from playing up realistic intimacy over broad musical theater acting to match Citadel's cozy auditorium.

Annie (Kayla Norris), center, and the other orphans sing "It's the Hard-Knock Life" in "Annie" at Citadel Theatre Company.
Annie (Kayla Norris), center, and the other orphans sing "It's the Hard-Knock Life" in "Annie" at Citadel Theatre Company. - Courtesy of Carolina Menapace/Citadel Theatre Company
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Opening night featured the "A" cast with Kayla Norris as a sly, smart Annie. She hit all the role's famous belted high notes, and she conveyed the wonderment of an abandoned child being swept up into the wealthy New York world of billionaire Oliver Warbucks (an upstanding and arch John B. Boss).

Chamaya Moody and her lovely soprano voice made for an elegant Grace Farrell, Warbucks' personal secretary. Other brassy standouts include Kyle Ryan and Becca Duff respectively as the villainous schemers Rooster Hannigan and his moll girlfriend, Lily St. Regis (named after the hotel).

Ellen Phelps was perfectly fine as embittered orphanage head mistress Miss Hannigan, and she hit all her marks. Yet I would have preferred more resentment from Phelps' Hannigan rather than just focusing on the comedy of being overwhelmed by her perky charges.

Lily St. Regis (Becca Duff), left, Rooster Hannigan (Kyle Ryan) and Miss Hannigan (Ellen Phelps) belt out the song "Easy Street" in "Annie." The hit 1977 Broadway musical continues at Citadel Theatre Company in Lake Forest through Sunday, Jan. 5.
Lily St. Regis (Becca Duff), left, Rooster Hannigan (Kyle Ryan) and Miss Hannigan (Ellen Phelps) belt out the song "Easy Street" in "Annie." The hit 1977 Broadway musical continues at Citadel Theatre Company in Lake Forest through Sunday, Jan. 5. - Courtesy of Carolina Menapace/Citadel Theatre Company
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The choice, however, fits in with Estrin's overall production for Citadel, which largely steers clear of the darker aspects of the script and thus strips the subsequent sunniness of contrast.

But aside from these quibbles, Citadel Theatre's "Annie" works. Set designer Eric Luchen found clever ways to work with his small space, while Patty Halajian's 1930s costume designs also help with the storytelling.

"Annie" isn't always billed as a "Christmas show." But it does fit perfectly with the holiday season, and Citadel's production makes for a nice alternative to "A Christmas Carol" and "The Nutcracker."

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Location: Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest; (847) 735-8554, ext. 1, or citadeltheatre.org

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (no show Dec. 26), 8 p.m. Friday (no show Dec. 27), 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday (no matinees Dec. 28 and Jan. 4), 3 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 5. Also, 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4 and 18

Tickets: $40-$45

Running time: About 2 hours 25 minutes, with intermission

Parking: Free lot

Rating: For general audiences

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