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Strong cast makes 'Annie' at Toby's Baltimore worth a trip

Through the holiday season, Toby's Baltimore Dinner Theatre is offering such an entertaining, surprisingly relevant classic version of "Annie" that it is worth a half-hour drive for Anne Arundel county residents.

Based on the Harold Gray "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip, the 1977 Broadway show "Annie" with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin won the Tony for Best Musical. "Annie" ran for nearly six years on Broadway and in countless productions nationally and abroad. A spunky orphan's optimistic belief in a brighter tomorrow appealed to 1977 audiences and to generations that followed.

We respond to Annie's message of hope and belief that her parents will return to claim her despite having spent 10 years at the girls' orphanage run by nasty Miss Hannigan.

In desperation, Annie flees the orphanage to search for her parents and instead finds only a stray dog she names "Sandy." Annie briefly joins a colony of homeless people before she is found by police Lieutenant Ward, who takes her back to the orphanage. Soon after Annie's return, Miss Farrell, secretary to Oliver Warbucks, a billionaire whose main interest is growing the fortune he made during World War I, comes to choose an orphan to spend the Christmas holidays at Warbucks' Fifth Avenue mansion.

Annie persuades him and his friend, President Franklin Roosevelt, that "the sun will come out tomorrow. So you got to hang on till tomorrow, come what may." Her optimism sparks FDR to come up with a "New Deal" and Warbucks to help Annie find her parents or else adopt her.

Skillfully directed by Shawn Kettering, Toby's production is brightened by the talents of four Anne Arundel County residents. Tina DeSimone of Annapolis plays comically mean Miss Hannigan. DeSimone, who also serves as the show's choreographer, describes the Hannigan role as "a favorite because of so many dimensions; she is funny and has a great sense of humor. 'Little Girls' is such a wonderful song to sing and act out, and it's an absolute delight to be with Annie and the orphans."

Matthew Greenfield of Harwood as Officer Ward succeeds in bringing a Brooklyn accent and gentleness to this tough cop. Greenfield also succeeds at gently discouraging Miss Hannigan's flirtatious advances.

Alan Hoffman of Glen Burnie creates an imposing Roosevelt. Having researched FDR in documentaries, Hoffman found: "In small and large groups FDR gives and takes energy from everyone. His ability to work in an inspirational mode seemed to be what many needed."

David Bosley Reynolds of Annapolis reprises the Oliver Warbucks role that he was chosen to play in a national touring company by lyricist Charnin, who was the show's original director.

A Toby's regular, Bosley Reynolds first played Warbucks at Toby's Columbia Dinner Theatre in the initial December 2001 "Annie" production. Having attended, I recall Bosley Reynolds singing "NYC" with added sentiment.

Having often played the role, Bosley Reynolds keeps Warbucks "as fresh as I can every night by taking all I can from fellow performers' reactions." He said his understanding was strengthened when he lived in New York while rehearsing for the tour.

"I went to 987 Fifth Avenue to see where Warbucks' mansion was and found a corner of Central Park where 987 should have been. Across the street and down one block is the Frick Art Gallery and mansion built by tycoon Henry Clay Frick," he recalled. "I spent hours in the mansion studying the art and the grandeur of this place to become convinced that this was the real home of Oliver Warbucks."

All is reflected in his portrayal displaying strong rapport with fellow actors in addition to one of the cast's best singing voices.

Multi-talented DeSimone's Miss Hannigan amuses in her interaction with the orphans, delivering a show-stopping "Little Girls" and providing strong ensemble work. She is especially strong in the rollicking "Easy Street," in which her lively dancing and singing heighten the fun and rapport with her slimy stage brother Rooster, hilariously played by Matthew Schleigh, and his girlfriend Lilly St. Regis, skillfully portrayed by Deb Buonaccorsi.

The starring role of Annie is double cast, and when I attended was well delivered by Adalia Jimenez, who is older than the usual Annie and more nurturing with younger orphans. Jimenez's Annie has plenty of spunk and optimism and delivers her songs "Maybe" and "Tomorrow" brightly.

Two sets of orphans are cast — with Jimenez are Grace Dillon, Cristen Hall, Natalya Jimenez, Hunter Lubawski, Lily Ulman and Maddie Ulman. They deliver a lively "Hard Knock Life" complete with intricate choreography. The smallest girl, Lily Ulman, is a standout as little Molly, displaying great mimicry skills imitating Miss Hannigan.

Heather Marie Beck adds warm elegance to the role of Warbucks' secretary, Grace Farrell.

As Hooverville inhabitants and servants at Warbucks' mansion, a large ensemble adds sparkle to this production. Fabulous live music is under the direction of Douglas Lawler.

For reservations and performance dates through Jan. 8, call 410-649-1660 or check the website at tobysdinnertheatre.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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