Tag Archives: Glynis Leyshon

Annie; Theatre Under the Stars (Review)

I love the inherent charm and romanticism in Theatre Under the Stars.  Something about watching live musical-theatre performers under an open sky on a cool summer night brings back the notion of a simpler time.  Where the flights of fantasy we see on stage no longer seem so implausible.

Going back to reality however, begs the question whether simpler times ever actually existed, or if they’re merely childhood memories artfully framed by nostalgic wishing.  The good old days surely don’t apply to the years in the 30s during the Great Depression.

It’s in that unlikely setting that TUTS first feel-good musical of the season takes place.  The family classic Annie opens with a group of orphans gathered around the radio, listening to the opening overtures of Charles Strouse’s score.

With lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, Annie has been a family favourite for the last 32 years and unfortunately its age is showing.  The story is peppered with cultural references from the 30s as remembered from the 70s.  Mentions of Jack Dempsey or Don Budge don’t exactly hit home with a contemporary crowd.  It also doesn’t help that the show’s most memorable songs are all in the first act.

Luckily, the TUTS cast has talent enough to gloss over the show’s weaknesses.  Nine-year-old Michelle Creber plays the titular orphan as well any seasoned veteran.  Actual seasoned veteran David Adams, who plays Oliver Warbucks, has some great chemistry with Creber.  His Warbucks is somewhat human compared to how others have played the role and his affection for his young ward is therefore more believable.

David Adams, Michelle Creber, and Dana Luccock in TUTS' production of Annie.  Photo by Tim Matheson

David Adams, Michelle Creber, and Dana Luccock in TUTS' production of Annie. Photo by Tim Matheson

The orphan chorus, as played by Sophie Leroux, Loritta Lin, Eve O’Dea, Christina Peluso, Roan Shankaruk, Nicol Spinola, Olivia Steele-Falconer, Sophie Visscher-Lubinizki and Allison Wall, is charming and brimming with talent.  Their spunky version of “Hard Knock Life” gets the show off and running on a high note.

I never envy the job of the actor who is cast as Miss Hannigan.  Carol Burnett’s cinematic turn as the boozy orphanage director is a hard act for anyone to follow.  Theoretically, Miss Hannigan has some of the best one-liners in the show, and Colleen Winton plays them up for all they’re worth.  But they didn’t get much response from the audience; which says more about the audience and the show itself than it does about Winton’s performance.  Many of the lines just aren’t as funny when you know they’re coming.

Todd Talbot and Carolyn Bergstrand as Rooster Hannigan and Lily St-Regis liven up the show with their brand of comedic villainy.  Winton, Talbot and Bergstrand are smooth as butter with “Easy Street.”

Not everything in Annie hits the mark.  Dana Luccock’s portrayal of Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell is flat and somewhat one-noted.  There were also a few problems with the sound, but nothing that can’t be ironed out.

Kudos to Francesca Albertazzi for her set design.  It is both pretty and practical and works well within the limitations of the Malkin Bowl.  Former Playhouse Artistic Director Glynis Leyshon makes her TUTS directing debut and has crafted a solid show.

Though the musical itself may be getting a bit tired, it’s a great choice for the family-friendly TUTS.  Tickets are still available through Tickets Tonight. Annie plays every other night at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park at 8 pm until August 21st.

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Theatre Under the Stars: Summer of ’09

July is already upon us, which means that it’s only a little over a week before Theatre Under the Stars begins previews of its 2009 season.

TUTS has made some shrewd choices this year with a duo of family-friendly shows; classic crowd-pleaser Annie and the relatively new but very popular Thoroughly Modern Millie.  I’ll be posting further about both shows in the days leading up to the opening nights.

TUTS has been a summer Vancouver tradition at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park since the 1940s with only a few interruptions.  Most recently TUTS took a hiatus in 2006 after running into financial difficulties.  It was widely speculated that the two lesser-known shows staged in 2005, Big: the musical and Can-Can, failed to draw in ticket-buying audiences.

For the last two years, TUTS has safely steered towards popular and time-tested fare; Grease and Oklahoma in 2007, and Jesus Christ Superstar and Annie Get Your Gun in 2008.

Michelle Creber and Max in the TUTS production Annie. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Michelle Creber and Max in the TUTS production Annie. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Michelle Creber plays the redheaded optimistic orphan Annie alongside a slew of Vancouver stage veterans. David Adams stars as Oliver Warbucks, Colleen Winton (2008 Ovation award winner for Musical of Musicals the Musical, Fighting Chances), as Miss Hannigan, and Todd Talbot (It’s A Wonderful Life, Arts Club) as Rooster Hannigan.  Former Vancouver Playhouse artistic director Glynis Leyshon directs.

Thoroughly Modern Millie stars Broadway actress Diana Kaarina (Rent, Les Misérables) as the titular character who, in the modern tradition, moves to the big city with plans to marry not for love but for money.  The role should be somewhat old hat for Kaarina, as she previously played the role in the touring company of Millie.  Directed by Shel Piercy, the cast also includes Meghan Anderssen (Annie Get Your Gun, TUTS), Danny Balkwill (We Will Rock You, Mirvish), and Sarah Rodgers.

Previews July 10-13.  Shows play alternating nights with Annie opening July 14th through August 21st and Thoroughly Modern Millie opening July 15th through August 22nd.  Tickets available online or by calling 604-684-2787.