‘Annie’ gives off exuberance at Paper Mill

By Liz Keill

MILLBURN, NJ – “Annie” is the perfect holiday treat, with its message of hope for “Tomorrow” and its Christmas tree décor in Act II.

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This long-lasting musical opened on Broadway in 1977 and its enduring appeal says something about the way we want all to be right with the world.

In the Paper Mill production, Cassidy Pry plays the irresistible Annie, an orphan who is ultimately adopted by the wealthy Daddy Warbucks (Christopher Sieber).  Of course, there are complications and roadblocks in between. Ryan displays a clear, matter-of-fact honesty as the 11-year-old orphan. She alternates in the role with Peyton Ella.

One of the moving aspects of this story is the timing. Set in 1933, we get a reality check on Hooverville and the destitution of millions of people out of work. In “We’d Like to Thank You,” a chorus of homeless people nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge, singles out Herbert Hoover for the country’s economic woes. That brings us to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Kevin Pariseau) who, with Annie’s inspiration, leads his colleagues to develop a New Deal, putting homeless men and women to work through construction sites, highways, dams and a multitude of projects.

But the orphans are really at the heart of this musical, especially fourth grader Tessa Noelle Frascogna, who does back walkovers and never misses a beat with all the song and dance numbers. “It’s the Hard Knock Life” as them all singing about their dreary existence. Gabby Beredo, Michelle Henderson, Eve Johnson, Lauren Sun, Sloan Wolfe and Tessa Noelle Frascogna give it their all as the bane of Miss Hannigan’s existence.

Beth Leavel is the whistle blowing, blousy Miss Hannigan who has little use for her youthful charges. She is soon visited by her brother, Rooster Hannigan (Cooper Grodin) and Lily (Kim Sava). They come up with a scheme to retrieve Annie as their long-lost daughter and collect $50,000 from Warbucks.

Their “Easy Street” is a show stopper and Leavel delivers a scathing “Little Girls.”  Sieber as Warbucks shines in “Something was Missing” as he sees that Annie matters in his life. Erin Mackey is Grace Farrell, his assistant and potential love interest.

All in all, the musical is a festive feast of song, dance, terrific acting and a heartfelt message. But don’t forget Sandy, the mutt played by Macy, who has appeared in over a dozen productions since 2010. Another dog, Addison, as a stray also makes a brief appearance.

Mark S. Hoebee has directed this familiar yet heartwarming production, with music by Charles Streusel and lyrics by Martin Charmin. Thomas Meehan wrote the book adapted from the funny paper’s “Little Orphan Annie.”  Costumes by Suzy Benzinger, lighting by Charlie Morrison, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt all add to the lush, sometimes colorful and sometimes drab settings of this musical that hits all the right notes.

“Annie” continues at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through Dec. 31. For tickets, call 973-376-4343 or visit papermill.org.