Up front, I had better admit that "Annie" is not one of my favorite musicals. Perhaps with some people "Annie" ranks somewhere between the American flag and Mom's apple pie, but I personally feel that it just lacks substance. It's basically a comic strip with music.
OK, so this probably places me somewhere in the vicinity of being Miss Hannigan's second cousin once removed, but my wife, our children (10 and 15) and I were restless and fidgety by the time intermission came along on opening night of Promised Valley Playhouse's production - mostly because we've seen it at least four times.Not that this "Annie" isn't a well-crafted production. It is. It has a fine, capable cast, exciting sets, and even choreographer Marilyn Montgomery has avoided her usual overdose of tap-dancing.
For me, the real star of this show is not Adrienne Gunn (who does a fine job in the title role, although she appears to be a little more grown up than the red-headed moppet is generally perceived). And not Bruce A. Bredeson, whose Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks seems to change too quickly from the gruff billionaire to the warm-hearted nice guy. (But it's certainly gratifying to have a leading man during a PVP Christmas production who remembers his lines.) And not even Jerrilyn G. Christian as Miss Hannigan, who isn't quite shrill enough to make us believe that she's NYC's most despicable orphanage matron.
No, for me the real star of this "Annie" is Seven Nielsen and his stunning set designs. Even though the plot may dawdle now and then, the set changes moved along without a hitch - from the dreary orphanage to Warbucks' opulent Fifth Avenue mansion, from the bright lights (literally) of Broadway to the Hooverville hobo hangout beneath the awesome 59th Street Bridge.
And his most creative, talked-about set had to be the one he did for the unusual finale. Sandy (splendidly played by Bandit in his second appearance as Annie's famed canine sidekick) would definitely give this scene - Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf! - a Four Arf rating.
One objection I do have to PVP's "Annie" (and this is purely personal) is the use of a synthetic, practically non-existent orchestra. I realize the state-of-the-art Kurzweiler synthesizers are supposed to be wonderful things, but they don't sound "live" - and there's nothing quite the same as a crew of real, instrument-playing musicians down in the orchestra pit. The only indication that there was even a musical director (Ken Johnson) on the premises was a television monitor attached to the balcony, so the cast could see him directing his musicians/synthesizers in the Plum Alley section of the theater.
And why was the Playhouse's wonderful organ just sitting idle? Pre-show organ music has always added a certain element of excitement at this grand, underutilized theater facility.
One thing "Annie" did do was remind me of how unfortunate it is that the Promised Valley Playhouse is used for only two "public" productions each year.
Meanwhile, back at the production itself - other cast members who deserve to be singled out include Grace Urry Henderson as Warbucks' diligent secretary, Bryon Finch as the scheming con-man Rooster Hannigan, Bryan B. Gardner as a very effective President Roosevelt, Troy Lunt as the sound effects man in the "Oxydent Radio Hour" segment (virtually stealing this scene as he ran back and forth raising "applause" signs and performing old-fashioned radio studio antics), Jayceen Marie Craven as Lily St. Regis (who but Rooster Hannigan would date a girl named after a hotel?), and Stanford Smith as radio emcee Bert Healy.
The show's ensemble performers also do an excellent job in various roles, most notably as Hooverville bums and Daddy Warbucks' domestic staff.
- A NOTE ABOUT PARKING - Promised Valley Playhouse announced prior to the play's opening night that an agreement had been worked out to provide free parking for PVP patrons in the ZCMI Parking Center/South (directly behind the playhouse and entered from Second South between State and Regent streets), but there was a mix-up and the word never filtered down to the parking lot attendant.
Patrons parking in the terrace after 6 p.m. need only one parking validation stamp on their ticket - not two stamps, as the attendant insisted Thursday evening. Theater patrons who received stamps for their parking tickets at the PVP will-call window while exiting the performance had been told that one stamp was sufficient, but upon driving out of the parking lot they were assessed an additional 75 cents.
J. Murray Rawson, PVP general manager, told the Deseret News on Friday afternoon that Zions Securities, which operates the parking terrace, apologizes for any inconvenience caused to Thursday evening's patrons. Those who can prove they were at the theater Thursday night (ticket stubs, receipts, etc.) will be given a refund at the parking terrace office.