Reviewed by G.L. Horton
"Annie" at the Reagle Players may be an ideal opportunity for families to introduce youngsters to the delights of the Broadway musical. The cartoon story is one that seems to grip kids of all ages -- my six year old companion was mesmerized, and when I asked him what part he liked best, Alex responded, "All of it." At our kiddy-packed matinee children even younger than six sat attentively and responded on cue when the "applause" sign was held up in the scene in the radio station studio. The show is bright and fast-paced, musically accomplished, and all of the children and most of the adults on the stage are locals, with family and friends waiting to congratulate them in the lobby as soon as the curtain falls. Here kids can see that the on-stage miracles are performed by humans much like themselves, who have perfected their talents through dedication and training. Plus, the tickets for children are priced at about the same as the price of a first run movie.
The Reagle Players, now in their 28th season, grew out of a summer theatre class at Waltham High School taught by Bob Eagle, who is now the head of the thriving high school drama department and artistic director of the summer theatre . Eagle set out to bring the Broadway musical home to the suburbs. Reagle shows feature professional musicians and directors, with Equity performers--- often from the original production or from the national tour--- in leading roles and serving as teachers. Amateur theatre veterans and school kids fill out the supporting roles and sing and dance in the chorus. In recent years the group has used or adapted the originals sets and costumes, too. The result is shows with the polish and shine of Broadway and the enthusiasm and sincerity of community theatre -- plus the training of a new generation of performers and audience enthusiasts for the All-American art form.
The Reagle "Annie" is directed by Robert Fitch, who won the Burns Mantle award for his performance of Rooster Hannigan back when "Annie opened", twenty years ago. He also directed Reagle's 1982 production of the show. Fitch has given his cast expert guidance. Group scenes such as one with all the bums in the 59th St. Hooverville and the one of the Christmas party at the Warbucks mansion overflow with character detail, yet stay focused and crisp. Fitch reprises his Rooster here, too -- and he is a wonder. The actor has maybe fifteen or twenty minutes on stage, total -- but he packs every second of that time with comic and dramatic substance. What an education it must be for suburban kids to share a stage with talent of such a high order! In the eccentric dance Rooster does with Miss Hannigan and Lily in the vaudeville number "Easy Street", limbs are flung wide and bent double and reassembled in ways that look impossible for a teenage gymnast -- let alone for a veteran like Fitch, who claims to have six grandchildren! And it wasn't hard for me to believe one of "Annie's more implausible plot points: Miss Hannigan doesn't recognize her own brother at first, when he comes in disguised as Annie's long lost father. But Fitch changed so completely, from the inside out, that I didn't recognize him at first, either -- though of course I already "knew" it had to be Rooster in disguise.
Mary Kilpatrick, the Reagle's Miss Hennigan, is on the youngish side, and slim. She is clearly from the same family as her brother Rooster, and their parents must have been professional contortionists. What she can do with her elbows and shoulders has to be seen to be believed, and she has more funny walks than John Cleese. Strangely, when you see it, you do believe it, because the weird movement seems to proceed from a pretzel of a soul. Gary Kimble is also youngish and slim for Daddy Warbucks, and maybe too attractive. Occasionally the mind may stray from the rather boring bit he's singing on stage to one or another of the great roles of the American musical theater it would be de-lovely to see him play-- in a ten-second Bing Crosby imitation Kimble tosses into one of his Warbucks songs, he demonstrates his virtuosic potential. The gallantry of Kimble's Warbucks as he leads Annie's stumbling feet through her first formal dance in the last-scene party really tugs at the heart strings.
Elizabeth Walsh brings a beautiful voice and a gracious presence to the part of Warbuck's loyal secretary, Miss Fuller, and Becky Downing contributes a truly terpsicoric Lily. These pros gave full return on Reagle's investment, on whatever Equity scale.
Annie herself is played by a real Waltham kid, twelve year old Jesse Sinerate, whose bio lists roles in the Summer Youth Theatre and family involvement in the Reagle for three generations. All this exposure doesn't seem to have turned her into a Show Biz type, however. Sinerate's Annie is less brash than might be expected, and strongest in the scenes of sweetness and longing. But all the orphans are genuinely likable, managing to stay in step and in tune more often than some casts filled with professionals. The smallest one, of course, steals most of the scenes. But director Fitch has arranged for tiny Mary Logan to function as a kind of orphanage mascot, so her abundance of attention seems more of a gift from the rest of the cast than a matter of outright theft.
R. Glen Mitchell as radio personality Burt Healy is the only nonpro who gets a real opportunity to demonstrate that he can perform a role with some challenge on a level with the pros, and Mitchell rises to the occasion with verve. But almost all the community theatre performers rise to the occasion, and its a pleasure to watch them. The only exception is Wags Conners, who displays the undisciplined narcissism of a pampered and pedigreed beauty in the part of Sandy. Maybe Reagle should have done a bit more fund-raising and hired a talented mutt.