The surprises in the pre-opening performance of Annie at Rainbow Stage did not prevent the audience from enjoying an excellent performance.
The orchestra played the overture and the curtain opened a few minutes after eight to a scene in the orphanage. While the girls appeared animated, it was difficult to hear their lines. There was also a murmur coming over the sound system, a conversation that shouldn’t have been heard. When Annie came onstage, she was clearly audible, adding to the confusion – maybe only major characters had mics.
Suddenly, interrupting the scene, came the announcement that there were technical difficulties. The curtain went down and the audience immediately began gossiping about the incident.
A few minutes delay was worth the wait as the curtain went up to clear audio from girl onstage, and the rest of the cast as the play progressed. The audience held no grudge for the delay, applauding warmly after both Annie’s first song and the orphan girls’ well-known “Hard Knock Life.”
Although the sound was adjusted at the beginning of the performance, at a few points throughout the play, it was actually too loud. For example, orphanage director Miss Hannigan’s whistle was extremely shrill. She used it several times – fully miked – to keep the orphan girls in line, resulting in audience mutters and some people covering their ears. Sometimes, too, several adults singing together resulted in slightly-too-loud songs that should have been brought down a few decibels for full audience enjoyment.
The choreography by Kimberley Rampersad was interesting and well-executed. Every actor knew his or her steps, from the young orphan girls to the staff of Mr. Warbucks’ mansion. The orchestra set the mood and guided the actors effortlessly through their songs.
The acting and singing, directed by Donna Fletcher, was excellent across the board. The children did especially well; Annie hit her high and low notes with ease and feeling, and the rest of the girls packed a mix of attitude, pain, and excitement into their performance.
Somewhat surprising were the multiple swear words used throughout the play, mostly on the part of Daddy Warbucks. There was nothing vulgar (d**n and h**l), but worth noting for those wishing to see the play with children.
The actors’ ability to think on the fly was impressive. At one point Annie’s dog ran away from her, off the stage, and along the rows of seats. Another actor might have continued with the scene without the dog, and a lessor actor might have frozen, not knowing what to do, but she kept her cool and improvised. She remained in character and chased after the dog, retrieved him, and continued with the scene.
The performance evoked laughs and a great deal of applause from start to finish. The final bows had much of the audience on their feet for a standing ovation.
Concessions were available before performance and during the 20-minute intermission: ice cream, candy, popcorn, and drinks. A box of popcorn (individual boxes or for two to share) weighed in at $3 and ice cream sandwiches $4. Although the prices were good, newcomers might find the concession area difficult to navigate. It was unclear where the line started, and the self-serve setup created some confusion. The full box of popcorn and fully frozen ice cream made up for the uncertainty.
Annie will be playing at Rainbow Stage Aug. 9-31. Tickets are $35 (select), $49.50 (prime), or $59.50 (prime+).