Theater review: ‘Annie’ at Flat Rock Playhouse

ORPHANS AND EARWORMS: Sing along with the many, many catchy hits of Annie, now onstage at Flat Rock Playhouse. Carly Gendell, left, in the title role, and Ivy Rose Voloshin perform in the show.
ORPHANS AND EARWORMS: Sing along with the many, many catchy hits of Annie, now onstage at Flat Rock Playhouse. Carly Gendell, left, in the title role, and Ivy Rose Voloshin perform in the show. Photo by Scott Treadway

Some may turn their noses up at a musical that’s bursting with sunshine, but most of us secretly love a rags-to-riches tale. The classic musical Annie, by Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, is onstage at Flat Rock Playhouse through Sunday, July 2.

Charismatic orphan Annie (played by Carly Gendell) languishes at a downtrodden New York City orphanage with unstable caregiver Miss Hannigan (Marcy McGuigan). Annie dreams of someday finding her parents, but all she has to go by is a gold locket around her neck. She gets the break of a lifetime when billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks (Sean Cooper) invites her to spend two weeks in his mansion.

As the curtains open, a beautiful set by Dennis C. Maulden, enhanced by CJ Barnwell’s lighting design, is revealed. That strength is carried through by the youthful performances of the orphanage girls. Their rendition of “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” is as exciting as ever. One orphan manages to stand out above the rest: The precious Ivy Rose Voloshin as Molly gives a flawless performance with comedic talent far beyond her years. When Voloshin gets trapped in a bucket, she nabs the night’s most memorable moment.

It’s no wonder that Gendell has played the role of Annie multiple times. In the final stretch of age believability, she gives it her all. Gendell made her Broadway debut in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock, originating the role of Marcy. As Annie, she noticeably inspires the young ladies around her, as well as the audience. This production could’ve done without the iconic curly wig, though, and some of Annie’s later outfits were too short, making her transformation not a highlight. Given that Macy, Annie’s adorable dog, Sandy, is a surviving stray herself, she realistically sinks her teeth into the part.

McGuigan surprises as the drunken Miss Hannigan. It’s impossible to duplicate the great Carol Burnett in the stellar 1982 film version, so it’s nice to see a more subdued approach. However, the staging of “Little Girls” needed attention. Also intriguing is the strapping Cooper, fully equipped with a deep, satisfying singing voice. Lindsay O’Neil, as Warbucks’ secretary and possible love interest, is radiant.

Stephen Sheffer gives a terrific performance as Rooster — Miss Hannigan’s brother and partner in crime. He’s reminiscent of John Waters’ “Dreamlander” actor David Lochary. Such a trashy approach to the character is monumental, making the fun, but lesser-known “Easy Street” this production’s best number. The ensemble of FRP regulars — Tauren Hagans, Scott Treadway, Michael MacCauley and Preston Dyar — give great support. Keep an eye on the handsome Cody Marshall, who does some truly fine work as Hull.

In a time when presidential parodies are all the rage, Peter Thomasson relishes playing FDR. When Annie meets the presidential cabinet and sings the fanfare number “Tomorrow,” it makes us hopeful that such simplistic change is still possible. The second act has always lacked momentum and fluidity, though. This is something the film took note of and elevated the stakes, giving Miss Hannigan a much-needed character arc when she second-guesses Annie’s abduction. The fault lies in the theatrical version’s writing alone.

Director and choreographer Amy Jones goes for consistent jubilation with this production. Such a positive focus is what we need right now. If Annie has taught us anything, it’s that, despite it all, the sun will come out tomorrow.

WHAT: Annie
WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, 2661 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock, flatrockplayhouse.org 
WHEN: Through Sunday, July 2. Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., matinees on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $15-$50

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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