Review: Annie Hits All The Right Notes
Annie is one of those classic musicals that gets rehashed and retold time and again by companies all over the world. It’s a story many are familiar with, having been exposed to the material in some form or another. So the question must be asked: does Resorts World Manila’s production of this classic show bring anything new to the table? The answer is a resounding yes, because Annie surely delivers on every level.
One of the most striking things about this production is its staging. Given the wider-than-usual stage, actors tend to look tiny and sets are usually very bare, after failed attempts to fill the massive expanse. Annie suffers from none of these problems, thanks to Faust Peneyra’s wonderful scenic design. The scale of the streets of New York, the bustling theater district, the White House, and Daddy Warbucks’ Mansion are all grandiose and absolutely striking. Each new set change — of which there are many — is more stunning than the last, keeping the audience visually stimulated from start to finish. The stage is given incredible depth, due to the utilization of the wings as well as the borders along the inside of the space. The show also incorporates projections in a way that I’ve never seen in a local production. The wings and proscenium are transformed using LED panels as well as the analog projections against the scrim. All of the projections blend so seamlessly with the physical set and props, that it is often hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins. One of the best aspects of the set was transitions, which were grainy, vintage projections of New York in the 30s against the scrim, while set changes took place behind it. The staging of director Michael Williams and assistant director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo is fantastic, resulting in a show that feels brand new. Despite it’s age, Annie doesn’t feel like as old a show as it really is.
(READ: Kids, Mutts, and Pre-triumphs- A Look Inside Resorts World Manila’s Annie)
The decade-old musical is filled to the brim with classic songs, such as Hard Knock Life, Fully Dressed, and of course, the iconic Tomorrow. In Hooverville, it is immediately evident to the audience that the less popular Annie songs highlight the strength of the ensemble. And what a strong ensemble it is. The actors that round out the cast all come together and create full, rich harmonies that make every song a delight to hear.
The supporting roles are filled by theater veterans such as Michael de Mesa and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, who play Daddy Warbucks and Miss Hannigan, respectively. As Warbucks, de Mesa starts out as a cold, ‘all business’ tycoon, but quickly changes his tune and becomes a loving father figure to the little orphan. While he does deliver a truly believable and moving performance, the change in Warbucks’ disposition happens far too abruptly, which deprives the audience of his journey as a character. However, it must be said that this is a problem of the material, and not de Mesa’s approach to the role. The other significant adult in Annie’s life is Miss Hannigan, played incredibly by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo. Hannigan, the alcoholic caretaker we all love to hate, is so deliciously despicable as a result of her take on the character. In the show-stopping number Little Girls, she sings of her repulsion towards the orphans she is responsible for, and the hilarious number ends with the actress belting the roof off. Part of what makes her performance so great is that she also makes you feel bad for her, especially during the scenes where she listen to the radio dramas, fantasizing of a life full of romance. Other notable performances came from Caisa Borromeo, whose one song surely left audiences wanting more; Red Concepcion as Rooster Hannigan, James Paolelli as President FDR, Jill Peña as Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell, and Hans Eckstein as Warbucks’ butler Drake.
Alba Magdala Berenguer Testa, Cheska Rojas, Cydel Virie Gabutero, Ericka Peralejo, Gwyneth Dorado, and Ginger Karganilla play the little orphans alongside the title character, and while they aren’t onstage as much as the adults, the little girls certainly make an impression with their wonderful vocals, great comedic timing and infectious energy.
Last, and definitely not least, is the incredible performance from the show’s leading lady: Isabeli Araneta-Elizalde. Taking on the title role in a production as big as this is one thing, but to take it head on without any prior acting experience is another, and that’s just what Elizalde did. I have never heard a voice as powerful or as crystalline from a child actor, and her voice, which gave me chills every time she sang, is enough of a reason to see the show. However, Elizalde excels because she has so much more than just an exceptional voice. As an actress, she commanded the stage and possessed a magnetism far beyond that of her age. In the Hooverville number, she had to keep the dog playing Sandy at bay, all while acting along and singing a few lines. Her most powerful scene is Maybe (Reprise III), which is the show’s emotional climax and a fairly predictable moment. Having said that, I was forced to hold back tears as she sang the song, which is a testament to Elizalde’s prowess. She is not merely a star in the making, but already a bona fide powerhouse.
(READ: Get to Know Annie’s Cast of Orphans!)
This production of Annie is one of the best musicals I have seen in quite some time. While the material is very old, and the subject matter even more so, the show never feels dated, thanks to Michael Williams’ direction, Faust Peneyra’s scenic design, and one of the strongest casts I’ve seen in years. Despite the fact that the second act isn’t as consistently strong as the first, it more than compensates for the lack of big numbers through its emotional pull towards the finale. Annie is not only a show with flashy sets, big numbers, an immensely powerful cast, and an astonishingly talented lead, but it also does a few things that most musicals fail to achieve. Incredibly warm, charming and full of heart, this production of Annie is an absolute joy to watch.