The national tour of the time-honored family musical “Annie” kicked off Jan. 31 at the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC). The tour, which runs through 2024 and is scheduled to stop in 30 additional cities, provided classic elements older generations crave and the spark of brand-new theatrical talent to excite younger audiences.
This version of the Tony Award-winning musical, which has seen many variations since its stage debut in 1976, sticks faithfully to the original script, playing against the backdrop of Depression-era culture and politics.
Having been enjoyed now by several generations, the show serves as an intergenerational intersection for parents, their children, and grandchildren. Many guests on the show’s debut night were multigenerational, the highest concentration of which were mothers attending with their daughters.
The show’s classic theme of Annie’s finding a family to which she could belong, coupled with songs that have been treasured by audiences for decades, served to strengthen the fabric of support for this show. Its timeless theme and long-beloved music seem to continue to entice younger generations into the fold.
Audiences were greeted by energetic and cheerful organ music, played on a white organ with gold embellishments by a man wearing a white suit and red top hat. The music he played harkened back to calliope tunes that could have been played on a carousel or at a carnival. His vigor and vivacity entertained guests until the show began.
This touring ensemble of Annie featured a few seasoned musical theatre veterans balanced by a collection of touring newcomers. Annie (played by Ellie Pulsifer), as well as all of the orphans living at Miss Hannigan’s, were all newcomers to the national stage. Bronte Harrison, who played Molly, the youngest and most mischievous child, noted she was thrilled to make her national tour debut as an orphan, as she was adopted herself from an orphanage in China as a toddler.
One highlight of the show was Stefanie Londino’s performance as Miss Hannigan, who effortlessly melded her voice and dancing abilities with Miss Hannigan’s signature sass, then incorporated elements of grace, softness and a likeability not often seen in her character. This versatility is a credit to Londino’s acting range and stage experience. Londino’s national tour credits include Rosina in “A Bronx Tale” and Shaindel in “Fiddler on the Roof.” There could have been no more perfect embodiment of the true complexity of Miss Hannigan than Londino.
The show’s choreography, spearheaded by award-winning choreographer Patricia Wilcox, was organized and vibrant, and a delight to watch. Dancers were both deliberate and nimble, serving to both punctuate and elevate musical numbers. Her awards include an Astaire Award and the NAACP Award for Best Choreography for “Motown the Musical.” Her vast choreography credits include “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Music Man,” and “Bye, Bye Birdie,” for which she earned the Goodspeed Opera House-Connecticut Critics Circle Award.
The most memorable choreography in the show took place during “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” and “Easy Street.”
Krista Curry, who played Lily, the co-villainess of the show, offered a period-perfect character who was nefarious and cute at the same time. Her performance was reminiscent of characters in “Chicago,” which was set in 1924, around the same time. Her voice, inflection and mannerisms fit perfectly with her character and the time in which the show was set. Julia Nicole Hunter, who played Grace Farrell, Oliver Warbucks’ (Christopher Swan) secretary, exhibited quiet control, wisdom, and a maternal instinct that cradled both Annie and Oliver Warbucks.
Ellie Rose Pulsifer, who played Annie, excelled vocally and in her acting while nurturing the youth in her character. When she turned her attention to one of the adult characters, her vulnerability was palpable. It was during those tender moments Pulsifer shined brightest. Her handling of and interactions with Sandy (played by pup Addison) as well proved that the 12-year-old has already earned her stripes as a professional.
Annie runs at PPAC through Feb. 5, 2023.