Annie – Review by Tom Nissley

It helps, when the BMA takes over the stage at the Playhouse, to pause and remember what’s involved in this spin-off of a training arena for regional would-be actors. Regular students who commit to an irregular schedule of instruction in projection, in dance and singing and moving in tandem with each other in groups that suddenly grow from six to forty-six of them making wonderful displays. But add to that a fourteen-piece live orchestra and then the opportunity to work with some very well selected featured actors and singers. Oh yes, let’s not forget the very fine scenery that drops in to create a very handsome setting for an over-all great production, and stage direction that pulls it all together. That’s the background you should be aware of when you hear the words, ‘Broadway Method Academy.’

“ANNIE” might seem overly familiar, but even if you have seen it a dozen times, my hunch is that you’ll cheer happily to see it here again. And what better opportunity for 46 students to appear in a show? There’s the scene in the Orphanage when suddenly bundles of young persons fill up the stage, scrubbing floors, changing sheets, mocking Miss Hannigan (Klea Blackhurst) with “It’s a hard-knock life.” Minutes later they’re a bunch of starving and homeless New Yorkers in Hoovertown, where one runs a soup kitchen, and one is a policeman intent on breaking up this group and challenging a young red-head about how she’s connected to a (wonderful!) dog she names Sandy (Bill Berloni’s SUNNY).

Before too long the policeman shows up at the orphanage, returning Annie (Ava Lynn Vercellone) to Miss Hannigan, just in time to meet Grace Farrell (the lovely Lauren Sprague) who is there to search out an orphan for a visit to Oliver Warbucks (Paul Schoeffler) magnificent mansion during the Christmas holidays. Sure enough, it is Annie who goes off to Chez Warbucks with Grace.

The other Broadway members of the cast are Nicholas Rodriguez [Rooster Hannigan], Julie Kavanaugh [Rooster’s girlfriend, Lili St. Regis], and Dan Remmes [FD Roosevelt]. But the Broadway influence doesn’t stop there. Sets by Ryan Howell (who designed last year’s Evita as well). Costumes by Colleen Fitzsimmons. Lighting by Weston G. Wetzell, Sound Design by Ian Wehrle. Brilliant choreography by Audra Bryant. BMA believes that putting talented and experienced professional designers and actors with a talented but less experienced student ensemble, working together on the same stage, is the best kind of training for work in the Theater.

The co-founders and managers of BMA are Connor Deane, who’s directed this great production, and his mentor, J. Scott Handley, who serves as music director. Thanks to them both for an exceptional visit to “ANNIE.” One of the best productions I’ve seen at the Playhouse this year.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre February 12, 2019