By Stephanie Ottey
In a time of economic concern, after a raucous presidential election, we could use some optimism. What better way to find it than with a classic American musical based in the time of the Great Depression that teaches us that the sun will come out “Tomorrow”?
Presented by Easy Street Productions and the Youngstown Symphony Society, “Annie” is just what and who we need right now. The musical, written by Meehan, Strouse and Charnin, is relatable on many levels, so parents may appreciate the cheery theater staple just as much as their children.
Timing aside, Easy Street has one other great reason to stage this legendary musical: a cast of talents meant for the show, including one magical, red-headed girl.
Cortney MacKay has the audience wrapped around her finger as soon as the first notes of “Maybe” escape her lips. MacKay makes an Annie who has plenty of sweetness, but holds a hint of mischievousness, too. The fifth-grader is expressive and energetic, packed full of potential and makes a stunning musical-theater debut in the title role of “Annie”.
MacKay is backed by more than a dozen young girls who play Annie’s fellow orphans. This group is a tribute to the quality lessons offered through Easy Street, as most of the girls have attended workshops and performed with the “Little Rascals” there. They are polished and confident on stage, performing with synchronicity and professionalism.
Maureen Collins, a co-founder of Easy Street, brings the perfect blend of evil and humor to Miss Hannigan, the bitter boss of the orphanage. Kids fear her, adults relate to her, and everyone laughs at Collins’ wit. She’s an absolute star in this role.
Todd Hancock and Virginia Hartman are a skeezy, silly pair as the crooks, Rooster and Lily. Hancock is also responsible for the excellent casting as director of “Annie.”
WKBN’s Teresa Weakley joins the cast to play Grace and fills the role with beauty and kindness. Daddy Warbucks is played effortlessly by Donald Creque.
Add Tom O’Donnell, James McClellan and Rich Morgan and a design team of experts, “Annie” is close to a Broadway production in caliber.
Patti Ferrara’s costume design is vibrant, David Terpak’s lighting is pro, and the set is borrowed from Construction Center for the Arts Pittsburgh.
The choreography by Megan Cleland is complicated and visually stimulating, and the dance ensemble nails it.
The Easy Street Little Big Band, conducted by Jeff Sanders, is a highlight of the show. Nothing sets the stage better than a well-written and well-played overture, and the Little Big Band musicians deliver.
Opening night has a few blemishes, but “Annie” is so fun and upbeat that they go nearly unnoticed.
Besides, it’s easy to forgive a few kinks for a show that promotes a good cause. This production is appropriately being used as vehicle to raise awareness for pet adoption and Angels for Animals.
Today at 2:30 p.m. is your last chance to see this uplifting production at the DeYor Performing Arts Center, so hurry and get tickets. For reservations, call 330-744-0264 or order online at www.youngstownsymphony.com.