The familiar sound of Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Fully Dressed, and Easy Street have captivated kids and adults alike since Annie (which started as daily comic strip Little Orphan Annie) premiered on Broadway in 1976.
This 2016, Full House Theater Company and Resorts World Manila are bringing life to this iconic musical that ran for a record-setting 2,377 performances in six years on Broadway. The five film versions in 1932, 1938, 1982, 1999, and 2014 have likewise earned their place in fans' hearts over different generations.
The Manila staging of Annie is a coming home of sorts: in 1980, when it was first staged in the Philippines by Repertory Philippines, it started the musical theater trajectory of Lea Salonga. Thirty-six years later, Lea is not part of the cast but she made sure to visit and encourage the young orphans, especially the two girls who play Annie just like her: Krystal Brimner and Isabeli Araneta Elizalde.
Here's what we love about Annie The Musical:
1. Scenic designer Faust Peneyra, Projections designer GA Fallarme, and Lights designer Jonjon Villareal truly maximized the use of the latest LED technology available at the Newport Performing Arts Theater.
From the video walls to the proscenium, or the part of the stage in front of the curtain, each available space was utilized to create true-to-life backdrops and locations.
They literally put out all the stops and the moving pieces alongside the projections, blended and seemed to be one cohesive set each time.
The seamless transitions from scene to scene transformed the stage into Hooverville to the New York City Municipal Orphanage to Warbucks Mansion to 5th Avenue to Broadway and the Roxy Theater and even the White House.
2. Let's talk about the kids!
The Little Orphans are played by CJ Jover and Ericka Peralejo as Kate, Ataska Mercado and Cydel Gabutero (also Annie's understudy) as Pepper, Precious Galvez and Cheska Rojas as Molly, Shanti Gleason and Gwyneth Dorado as July, Natalia Escaño and Alba Berenguer-Testa as Tessie, and Sofia Wong and Ginger Karganilla as Duffy.
Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, who plays Miss Hannigan voted her time and talent to conduct workshops for the orphans in this production.
And it showed! Molly, played by Eat Bulaga's Little Miss Philippines 2012 1st runner-up Cheska, made her mark twice, once at the beginning when, as the littlest kid in the orphanage, she wakes up crying in the middle of the night.
And once more towards the end when she shouts out to Miss Hannigan, "your days are numbered!" in a clear, loud voice. It was just one line but was a definitive moment as the orphans, along with Annie, Mr. Warbucks, and Grace Farrell then sing a New Deal for Christmas.
The stage at Newport is huge and the kids are rather small but they had enough stage presence to make us feel their plight in the orphanage, as well as their optimism in the midst of despair--seen clearly as the orphans sing Hard Knock Life.
Despite these kids portraying orphans in 1930's New York, the way their characters were written and how these actors (some in their debut performances!) performed gives something for Pinoys, even kids, to relate to. They are all innocent and playful and in need of love.
Radio was a big part of the 1930's milieu. The orphans, being their pilyo selves, did their take on Fully Dressed after hearing this radio commercial talking about pearly white teeth. They perfectly mimicked Bert Healy and the Boylan Sisters from the radio show, from the tops of their scruffy heads down to their soot-covered toes.
3. In the gala show that we watched, Annie was played by Isabeli Araneta Elizalde. The 10-year-old daughter of former model Bianca Araneta-Elizalde is playing a titular role in a major production for the first time. Her only previous experience is in school plays, glee club performances, and school chorale.
However, the youngster showed she's up to the challenge--living, breathing, and singing Annie the whole time she was on stage.
Miss Hannigan, who repeatedly told Annie to never tell a lie, got her payback when Annie told her at the end, with as much spunk and newfound confidence, "I would love, I really would love to, but remember you told me, never tell a lie."
When Annie first realizes her change in fortune, on her first night in Warbucks mansion, she sings I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here and the emotions that flit in and out of her voice and face show she is happy, excited, missing her friends at the orphanage and also a little bit uncertain about what all this means.
She also delivers her trademark "oh gee" and "oh boy" lines with pizzazz and when she says she has only heard of movies, when Warbucks brings her to the movie theater, you actually believe her.
She is able to deliver on the emotions she needs to show: confusion, joy, and expectation when she finds out that the 617 moms and 619 dads who showed up to claim her were all fakes, and given the option of being adopted by Mr. Warbucks, she tells him, "if you can't find them I know no one can. Having you, it turned out great."
4. Sandy, the dog, was a break-out star. Played by two dogs from the BetterDog Canine Behavior Center, Alab Feliciano and Tony Dinozzo Manlapaz, Sandy's role is crucial in establishing Annie's kindheartedness.
In a scene where Annie saves a yet unnamed mongrel from dog snatchers, she is caught in a bind because the policeman, played by Raymund Concepcion as Lt. Ward says the mongrel isn't hers and is a stray. Annie adamantly insists the dog is hers, coming up with the name Sandy, on a whim.
As the dog, in this show played by golden retriever Tony Dinozzo, runs away, Annie shouts, "Sandy, here boy, come Sandy!" and the dog actually runs back to her, which results in one of the most natural hugs between dog and human on live theater stage.
It is during this scene that Annie first sings Tomorrow and the lyrics "the sun will come out tomorrow," are a perfect summation of her seemingly hopeless state right there and then.
5. The eccentric residents of Hooverville, the shanty town.
These characters represent the aftermath of the American stock market crash in 1929 as America went through the Great Depression. They are literally the representation of where dreams go to die.
Annie, in the scene where she finds herself lost with Sandy, identifies with them, yet against such a bleak backdrop, her spirit is plucky, optimistic, and hopeful.
The colors and lighting in Hooverville were brilliantly captured by the muted colors, dark areas, and discarded items repurposed for whatever use.
6. Miss Hannigan is a character you are meant to hate. But Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo shone and made us love her.
When she sang her solo Little Girls, you could feel her disdain, disgust, and utter bitterness with the lot she had been dealt with. Her escapism was very evident every time she would either turn to the bottle or the radio.
You know her come-uppance is inevitable but in every scene that Menchu appeared as Miss Hannigan, one part of you was hoping she'll change her evil and scheming ways.
7. Michael de Mesa as Oliver Warbucks.
While Michael did not always hit the notes as high as other Warbucks before him, he was able to effectively portray his character trajectory: going from disinterested, disillusioned, to mildly amused and engaged to full-on participating and becoming as hopeful and optimistic as the orphan he let into his life.
His solo Why Should I Change a Thing felt real and pulled on all the right emotions as he finally started opening himself to the idea of becoming Annie's father and being responsible for someone other than himself.
When he first showed a tender emotion, not understanding what he was going through at the Roxy Theater in the song N.Y.C., the audience held their breath at the first show of tenderness on gruff Mr. Warbucks' face as he let Annie fall asleep in his arms. Set after the montage of the pair and Grace walking along Times Square, 5th Avenue, the Palace, Broadway and the pace of NYC, this moment felt especially poignant and sweet.
When Warbucks softly sings 'who will take care of her,' set against Annie singing her I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here, you feel Warbucks' conflicting thoughts. He has never had a little girl in the mansion, he was even expecting a boy to come home with Grace.
As he starts opening up to Annie on his childhood background of growing up in Hell's Kitchen, a rough neighborhood in Midtown New York, the challenges he overcame become more evident.
When he finally starts embracing the reality of what has been missing in his life, he allows himself a vulnerable moment of waltzing with Annie. Warbucks admits he has never waltzed before.
And when he finally acknowledges that he, and he alone will adopt Annie, you can feel his sincerity when he tells her, "there is no one in the world I would rather have than you."
8. Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis
Expect a hoot whenever these two swindlers, played by Mako Alonso and Red Concepcion as Rooster and Justine Peña as Lily, come on stage. The actors who play these two charcters breathe new life into the very familiar Easy Street and when they come back as Ralph and Shirley Mudge, Annie's "parents," you are wishing for them to be unmasked as soon as possible.
9. Jill Peña as Grace Farrell
Her theater credits include The Sound of Music and Bituin Walang Ningning in Resorts World Manila.
She plays the overworked yet positive assistant to billionaire Oliver Warbucks to a tee. When she sings her lines in You Won't Be An Orphan For Long, you feel her desire to make it happen for Annie. Another stand-out moment for Grace was I Don't Need Anything But You--and you find yourself rooting not just for Annie but possibly Grace and Mr. Warbucks.
10. James Paolelli, who in the gala show played President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is also Warbucks' understudy.
FDR relied heavily on Oliver Warbucks for advice and the latter had a direct line to the President. It was FDR's idea to gift Annie with a gift from Tiffany's when Warbucks decided he would adopt Annie.
In an especially moving scene at the White House Cabinet Meeting, where FDR and his cabinet are depressed, Annie arrives with Mr. Warbucks, and with her trademark infectious optimism is able to transform the whole mood.
FDR tells Annie, "you're the kind of person a president should have." It is after this meeting that the famous New Deal was crafted, which as history shows, transformed America through a series of social liberal programs that focused on the famous 3 Rs: relief, recovery, and reform.
Annie The Musical, while set in Depression-era 1930's New York, will definitely resonate even more strongly with the Pinoys of 2016.
Catch it until December 4, 2016 at Newport Performing Arts Theater in Resorts World Manila.
Ed's Note: The 'PEP Review' section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.