Jeffrey R. Smith is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annie an Ambitious Production for EHS Drama
Annie an Ambitious Production for EHS Drama
The Encinal Drama Department just completed a highly successful and most entertaining run of the musical Annie. Rarely would a reviewer give top priority to the technical staff, but this time it is warranted: The challenges presented by the play and the venue were certainly daunting but the crew, like true Jets, soared above the snags, setbacks and obstacles.
The production was ambitious and daring for a number of reasons. First and foremost was the number of scene changes: There were 12. Scene changes consisted of much more than swapping out a prop here or there. The changes were major: hustling whole backdrops, skidding desks, chairs, divans and whisking away stage props.
Stage crew members: Daniel Keep, Ada Barreto, Anne Barreto, Derek Au, Karl Greene, Jocelyn Gomez and Enkush Erdenebaatar, undoubtedly worked themselves into an aerobic lather freighting bulky scenery and ponderous furniture. The crew worked like well-oiled machinery; their teamwork resulted in a seamless production that moved forward with the precise cadence of a metronome. The pacing of the entire show was remarkable.
To produce the set Au painted with an intensity and creativity worthy of The Agony and the Ecstasy burning the late night oil, Au and team churned out eight distinct and detailed sets. Like an orchestra leader, Au led a squad of 14 painters, carefully applying the paint to no fewer than 20 or so mega flats.
Given the amount of hoofing performed as duets, two spotlights were required to keep steady beacons on the complex choreography; Elizabeth Aguilar and Susan Hong wrestled with behemoth spots — strenuous work-out equipment — that weighed nearly as much as they did.
Sound, which is always a technical challenge in a theater that doubles as a gymnasium, was deftly and expertly handled by Kenyon Shutt, Eli Solomon, Hannah Hidalgo, Anali Arneson and Nathan Siao; there was nary a squeal nor a dead spot throughout the run.
Annie is always a joy to watch because nearly every song is so upbeat. The orphans — ragamuffins thanks to authentic period costuming — belted out “It’s a Hard Knock Life” with dulcet, youthful exuberance and optimism. Their sparkling voices eclipsed the squalor, penury, neglect and abuse that the nefarious Miss Hannigan heaped on them.
The orphans played by Zariah Grant, Amy Chu, Charlie Kleinman, Anisya Lustig-Ellison, Addie Griffith, Natalie Deremiah and Julia Moeurn performed every piece of choreography, with an “on the mark” precision as directed by Amy Moorhead.
The musical had some wonderful vocal surprises up its sleeves.Who knew that Gabby Smith possessed a mellifluous voice that would make her ideal, the obvious choice, for the role of Grace Farrell? Smith effected a sophistication and elegant poise that vastly exceeded her years. Her entire performance was a most pleasant surprise.
Who would have guessed that the affable Lily Conable would sing a cameo in a seemingly professionally trained voice as “Star-To-Be?” Conable was one of the best surprises of the show.
Great performances included Ilia Rezucha and Isabella Miller as the unscrupulous Rooster and Lily Saint Regis. Rezucha’s “Rooster” was imbued with more underhanded sleaze and unctuous slime than you are likely to encounter in an entire election year. Miller’s Lily accent and demeanor were a perfect match for a working class New Jersey girl: a raucous unpolished gem of little moral fiber.
Brandon Lee as Drake was superlative; his posture, bearing and articulation were in every way commensurate with a majordomo in a ritzy mansion.
Jimmy Nguyen was the perfect Oliver Warbucks. He mustered all the charisma, leadership, confidence and decisiveness of a true captain of industry, yet exhibited the tenderness of a lonely billionaire. Nguyen’s Warbucks was indeed a champion of capitalism yet let himself be vulnerable to the innocent charms of Annie.
And speaking of Annie, played by Skye Chandler-Seeley, she is seemingly never content with what nature provides her; she enlisted the Voice of Alameda, videlicet Eileen Meredith of Island City Opera, as a vocal coach. Qualitatively Chandler-Seeley put her performance way over-the-top.
Due to native talent and assiduous training, Chandler-Seeley’s rendering of the signature song, “Tomorrow” was as uplifting as a forklift, a sky crane, a helium zeppelin: wonderful.
It is doubtful that a more beautiful, technically perfect, voice was ever heard in an Encinal play — not since Grease at least. And that leaves us with Megan Jones, cast as the nefarious but loveable and hilarious Miss Hannigan: possibly forgivable but never forgettable.
Jones created a Hannigan that stood squarely at the intersection, the very vortex, of Cruella De Ville, the Wicked Witch of the West, Maleficent, Ursula and a high school math teacher. Jones is an actress right down to her very ventricles and core of her bone marrow; sadly she leaves Encinal stages to be a drama major; then who knows? Broadway perhaps.
Given Jones’s conspicuous stage talent, self-discipline and determination, for her the “sun really will come out tomorrow … you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be sun.”
Encinal’s Annie was a great show that set its bar high for production standards and then surpassed that bar: well done.