Leapin’ lizards, StarStruck brings Annie to town

by Janet Grant
Tri-City Voice – January 11, 2011

Harold Gray’s classic comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie” sprang to life on a Depression-era set at Ohlone College Jackson Theater Saturday night. StarStruck Theater opened its 16th season of its signature quality live theater with the Tony Award-winning musical, “Annie.” Director and Producer Lori Stokes led a brilliant cast of over 60 children and teens throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, to a highly appreciative and jam-packed opening night house.

Under the able baton of Music Director Nancy Godfrey, the19-piece orchestra began a night of pure entertainment full of familiar tunes. Assistant Director and Choreographer Jeanne Batacan-Harper did an amazing job with the almost non-stop action and toe-tapping numbers, including the biggies, “Hard-Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” and of course, “Tomorrow.” And before long, the audience was simply swept away by the terrific music.

“Annie” is a timeless tale of a spunky little-redhead left on the doorstep of the Municipal Girls orphanage during the Great Depression. She suffers abuse under the dastardly and often hungover Miss Hannigan, the “warden” of the orphanage until fate brings her for a two-week stay at the mansion of billionaire industrialist, Oliver Warbucks.

StarStruck’s production of “Annie,” has everything a theater-goer could want – humor, pathos, darling kids, a nostalgic radio show, music you can sing along to, a really cute dog, and talent, talent, talent.

The energetic ensemble of orphans were amazing and set the tone of the entire musical from the very beginning with their “Hard Knock Life.” Eden Mercado as Molly was especially charming throughout the orphan numbers. And of course, nine-year old Grace Groeniger was absolutely wonderful as the title role of Annie. Her incredible poise and stage presence was only surpassed by her amazing voice. That girl could sing!

Karina Simpson was brilliant as bitter orphanage director, Miss Hannigan. Her comedic timing drew some of the biggest laughs of the evening as she stumbled around the stage in an endless drunken stupor. Daniel Mijangos as con artist Rooster Hannigan, and Katherine Dela Cruz as his sleazy girlfriend Lily, were equally funny and full of sass. The threesome were especially effective and great together performing “Easy Street.”

Trevor Meyer as gruff, workaholic Oliver Warbucks played his role with warmth and charm. His big heart made you believe that he could do anything from finding Annie’s birth parents to getting the nation back to work. If only he could see his caring and able assistant Grace Farrell, played by Chelsey Sue, as something more than just his secretary!

Daniel J. Harper as Drake, Warbuck’s efficient but kindhearted butler, added a special sympathy and humor to the posh 5th Avenue mansion scenes and Connor Stokes was hilarious but strangely believable as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He showed that FDR really was a powerful president. Not only does he create the New Deal, he can get his cabinet to sing together in harmony!

StarStruck’s production of “Annie” (book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin), was a joy to watch. And though the story is set in 1933, during the Great Depression, it is a tale sadly relevant today. A nation struggling under economic collapse brought on by deregulation and corporate greed and millions unemployed, and barely getting by. Where have we heard that before?

Although “Annie” reminds us of the harsh realities of our own economic downturn, it also reminds us how optimism by one person can effect everyone around them, radiating outward until even an entire nation of despair can turn into a nation of hope. After all, if there is any guarantee, it is that “the sun will come out tomorrow.”

Come see StarStruck’s “Annie.” It is pure family entertainment at its finest. But hurry, as tickets are going fast!

Performance dates:
Friday, January 14 – Sunday, January 16
Friday, January 21 – Sunday, January 23

Performances begin at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.

The performance on Friday, January 14 will also include American Sign Language interpretation.

Ohlone College, Smith Center in the Jackson Theater
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont.

Reserved seating prices range from $20-$25. Tickets are available by calling the StarStruck box office at (510) 659-1319 or online at www.starstrucktheatre.org.