Sometimes the obvious gets slighted. Inexplicably, the "Cast of Characters" in the printed program for the current Coeur d'Alene Summer Theater production is lacking the name of one rather important cast member. CST compensated by putting up posters all around proclaiming that, yes, there really is an Annie in this show entitled Annie, and that tonight the part would be played by an 11-year-old from Hayden Lake.
I'm happy to report that the hometown girl makes good. Erin Yost plays Annie with charm, and she belts out the anthem about tomorrow only being a day away with enough gusto that parents all over the auditorium smiled and were proud.
Yost doesn't offer the typical Annie look. Director Roger A. Welch has wisely avoided curly-haired cuteness and allowed Yost her natural straight reddish hair: Annie then becomes more like a real little girl, wandering through the Depression and asking universal questions like Who am I? and Where do I come from?
In the opening lines of the song everybody's waiting for in this show, her voice lacked confidence. But when she has to hit us with some hot notes, and when the chorus peaks in that crescendo about loving tomorrow, Yost clenches her fists and swings her arms, as if swinging for the fences. She knocks a homer -- not tomorrow, tomorrow -- but right now, today.
An initial scene, with Annie being threatened by bullies among the orphans and then threatening them in return, seemed stagey and wasn't convincing. But later on, Yost is more effective. She understates her role as mother to the other orphan girls; she takes charge in the scene with President Roosevelt's cabinet; she splays her legs and slouches comically when Daddy Warbucks wants to "talk man to man."
Yost's early scenes are played against her nemesis, Miss Hannigan. Ellen Travolta has a great first entrance in the orphanage director's role: looming in a doorway in a ratty green robe, hair by Joan Crawford, sneer by way of Lily Tomlin's Ernestine the telephone operator. This is a broad who likes to take orphans' dolls and rip their heads off. Travolta has fun in the part, even if she misses some of Hannigan's menace.
Underlying all such flaws, however, was the shortcoming that the combination of poor sound amplification and many cast members' careless diction led to the loss of entire stanzas (even in the good seats). Sometimes, the show seemed not fully rehearsed: Some dancers were behind a beat or two and surreptitiously trying to watch their fellow hoofers' feet. And I don't mean just the girls in the chorus of orphans, either.
As Oliver Warbucks, Jack Bannon is convincing as the over-busy tycoon who doesn't have time for a little girl in his life. "Orphans are boys," he announces gruffly. But a change comes over the character, and Bannon's acting expresses that gracefully.
In "I Don't Need Anything But You," for example, Bannon's character admits that Annie has him wrapped around her little finger, then pays her an off-rhyme compliment: "You've made me a singer."
Well, frankly, no.
Bannon doesn't sing very well to begin with, and, on opening night, he had a raspy cough that only made matters worse. His duet with Annie suffered as a result.
There's a running joke about how billionaire Warbucks has connections with every 1930s personage you've heard of. The book of Annie, however, makes too much of the connection between this little street waif and FDR's New Deal, and not enough of the moment when, after a prolonged build-up, Daddy Warbucks finally gets around to popping the adoption question. Bannon and Yost could invest more intensity in the moment they've both been anticipating. It seemed anticlimactic.
Christopher Moll choreographs some inventive penguin moves for the chorus in the "Hooverville" sequence, then riffs on some of the same movements as a "crowd" of 10 New Yorkers parades by and vogues during "N.Y.C." And while Moll and Travolta pair up for some comic, faintly bluesy moments in the "Easy Street" number, he steals scenes as Rooster, Miss Hannigan's devious brother.
The best voice in the cast belongs to Kelly Quinnett as Grace Ferrell, Warbucks' administrative assistant and eventual love interest. Of course, this romance between the billionaire and his secretary comes out of...
That's what it comes out of, all right. Absolutely nothing. But then this is a fairy tale, and Quinnett does look ravishing in that emerald evening gown toward the end. Just as Moll stands out among the trio of singers in "Easy Street" and its reprise, Quinnett stands out in the threesome that sings the praises of the Big Apple in "N.Y.C."
Scenic Designer Michael McGiveney contributes the proper effects: Manhattan in lights, outlined against the sky; a backdrop with buildings looming in at ominous angles; pastel elegance at Oliver Warbucks' mansion. Steven Dahlke's orchestra provides impressive accompaniment, with the horns during the overture especially strong.
Together, they provided the kind of atmosphere and home that Erin Yost's Annie deserved.
Publication date: 06/19/03