Fuse Productions provided the State College community with a family treat Thursday with its preview of “Annie,” a 1930s portrayal of an orphan girl’s optimism and faith in the future as she searches for her parents and in the process changes the lives of everyone around her.
Keri Rose Carroll is cast in the lead role of Annie, an 11-year-old girl who was left on the doorstep of a New York City orphanage. She runs away in hopes of finding her parents who abandoned her so long ago. After spending Christmas at the Warbucks Mansion, Annie and Oliver Warbucks hit it off and Warbucks decides to adopt her.
The play, directed by Richard Biever and featuring choreography by Jill A. Brighton, features an outstanding cast of local talent, including supporting actors Ellysa Stern Cahoy as the cruel, embittered orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, and Ashley Moore as Warbucks’ faithful assistant Grace Farrell. In addition to a fabulous cast of 36, the musical features a 17-piece orchestra, which includes brass arrangements in songs such as “Tomorrow,” “Hard-Knock Life,” “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” “Easy Street” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”
Carroll’s portrayal of Annie is Broadway-worthy, as the Bellefonte fifth-grader’s soaring soprano accentuates her amazing focus and acting ability.
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Making his State Theatre debut is Broadway actor Todd Thurston, who plays billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Thurston’s portrayal of Warbucks is absolutely brilliant in his portrayal of the consummate professional. Thurston seems to be a perfect fit for the role, with his charming personality, wit and humor. His presence on stage is enhanced with his commanding, robust baritone voice. Thurston and Carroll have a certain rapport together, one so real and convincing that it tugs at your heart.
The play is punctuated with the appearance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, played by Frank Wilson. The president has been stricken with polio and confined to a wheelchair, and he greets Annie when Warbucks brings her to Washington, D.C. The president shares Annie’s optimism for the future and commands his cabinet to join Annie in singing “Tomorrow.” It gives you a sense of pride and hope to see this man go out of his way to help a little girl find her parents when he has his own and the nation’s problems to deal with.
Throughout almost the entire show, I found myself smiling, just bursting with joy with this wonderful, heartwarming story. I left the theater with a more positive outlook on life, and it made me realize just how fortunate I am to have a family that loves me and that I love as well. It made me ask myself, “If an 11-year-old orphan can be so positive about her life, then why shouldn’t I do the same?”
What I also took away from this experience was just how much simpler life might have seemed in the 1930s. Despite the Great Depression and the threat of a world war lurking behind it, people seemed to care more about one another. It just reminds us all of a simpler time. This musical is every bit as charming, genuine, warm, pleasant and sincere as you might expect it to be.