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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

October 20, 2022 Issue
PART 4 (October 20, 2022)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


DPAC's Presentation of Annie Is a Nostalgic Throwback to Classic Productions

The Durham Performing Arts Center will present the 2022 tour of Annie, directed by Jenn Thompson and choreographed by Patricia Wilcox, on Oct. 18-23 as part of Truist Broadway at DPAC

Almost everyone knows the sweet story of "Little Orphan Annie." And although she may have started out as a comic strip character (and before that a poetic subject), she's perhaps best known for Annie, the fun-filled musical that bears her name. That same musical, which made its Broadway debut in April 1977, and has been made into multiple films, is now onstage at the Durham Performing Arts Center, under the direction of Jenn Thompson. And, honestly, the story, set in 1933 New York, is every bit as heartwarming and joyous as it was when it was first produced.

DPAC's production roars to life with the classic scene of Annie (Ellie Pulsifer) and her fellow orphans waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of Molly's (Bronte Harrison) recurring nightmare. As Annie comforts her young friend, she also reveals her naïve hope that, one day, her parents will come back, get her, and save her from the life that she leads under the brute force of the horrible Miss Hannigan (Stefanie Londino).

Not long after, the orphans stampede into a fun, well-choregraphed (Patricia Wilcox) version of "It's the Hard Knock Life" that's every bit as stomping and stern as you want it to be. And, while the title character will certainly have her chance to shine, little Bronte Harrison rules this scene. Her adorable imitations of the mean Miss Hannigan are spot-on and steal the show ... at least for a while. Loveable pup Addison also wins over a lot of hearts with her perfect portrayal of Sandy, the stray pup that Annie attempts to rescue when she escapes the orphanage in order to find her parents. This Sandy, trained by Bill Berloni, is sure to be the most fabulous (and furry!) one that viewers have ever seen. She sits, she stares lovingly at Annie, and she even, in her doggy way, smiles at all the right moments.

TROIKA Entertainment LLC's 2022 tour of Annie, playing Oct. 18-23 at DPAC, stars (from left) Sophie Stromberg, Vivianne Neely, Valeria
Velasco, Kenzie Rees, Riglee Ruth Bryson, and Bronte Harrison (photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Of course, Sandy, while charming, isn't the main focus of the first act, which is largely concentrated on Annie's transition from orphan to Christmas-guest at the rich NYC palace of Oliver Warbucks (Christopher Swan). In the interim, she meets some down-on-their-luck folks in Hooverville, a scene filled with fun choreography.

"Fun," in fact, is a perfect word to describe this tender production. Another one, though, would be "nostalgic." This Annie is a complete throwback to past productions (and there are a great many). There are no modern touches or updated additions. Instead, it's just the classic story, complete with mostly simple choreography and a strong reliance on a script with a lot of heart. This makes sense, given that director Jenn Thompson starred as Pepper in the original Broadway production.

Appropriately, this version reads as if it's trying to recapture an Annie of olden days; and the result is classic, sweet, and simple storytelling. Seeing the story performed in this way, without any "clever" new jokes thrown in, reminds viewers of what a perfect little story Annie is. It's a story rooted in history; but, more than that, it is rooted in love and the search for belonging, both timeless themes that still hold up well today. For evidence, one only had to look to the younger viewers in attendance at Wednesday night's performance. They went from rapt to giggling to sniffling all in the span of two hours, serving as proof that there's no need to mess with perfection.

Krista Curry, Nick Bernardi, and Stefanie Londino star as Lily St. Regis, Daniel "Rooster" Hannigan, and
Miss (Agatha) Hannigan in Annie (photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

And, speaking of perfection, the performers were well-cast and on point. Stefanie Londino'sMiss Hannigan is every bit as mean (and drunken) as she needs to be, whereas Christopher Swan expertly projects the stern-but-soft personality that makes "Daddy" Warbucks so very endearing. He's well-complemented by Julia Nicole Hunter's kindhearted Grace Farrell, Warbucks' loving (and maybe in-love-with-the-boss) secretary. And, in the leading role, little Ellie Pulsifer is a charming, spunky doll. Her comedic timing is golden, but where she really excels is in the story's more emotional moments. Her very real tears are sure to elicit the exact same response in viewers young and old.

Also nice here are Alejo Vietti's crisp, clean costumes. He particularly excels when it comes to Grace's business casual attire and Annie's orphan-turned-rich-girl wardrobe, including and especially the iconic red dress.

Ultimately, this is a surprisingly no-frills version of Annie, but that "no frills" isn't meant as an insult. In a time rife with over-the-top productions, this one serves as a nice reminder that, at its heart, theater is really about a simple story with human themes that resonate and transcend time. Those are qualities Annie has always had; and because director Jenn Thompson knows that, she lets it stand on its own and shine all the brighter for it.

Ellie Pulsifer and Christopher Swan as Annie and Daddy Warbucks (photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, and Thomas Meehan's ANNIE (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20-23), directed by Jenn Thompson, choreographed by Patricia Wilcox, presented as part of Truist Broadway at DPAC, and starring Ellie Pulsifer as Little Orphan Annie (a.k.a. Annie Bennett in the musical), Stefanie Londino as Miss Agatha Hannigan, Christopher Swan as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, Julia Nicole Hunter as Grace Farrell, Nick Bernardi as Daniel "Rooster" Hannigan, Krista Curry as Lily St. Regis, Riglee Ruth Bryson as Pepper, Sophie Stromberg as Kate, Bronte Harrison as Molly, Vivianne Neely as July, Kenzie Rees as Duffy, Valeria Velasco as Tessie, Harrison Drake as Drake, Jataria Heyward as Star to Be, Andrew Scoggin as Bert Healy, Mark Woodard as FDR, Addison as Sandy, and Georgie as Sandy understudy, plus an Ensemble including Bradley Ford Betros, Luther Brooks IV, Harrison Drake, Laura Elizabeth Flanagan, Jataria Heyward, Kevin Ivey Morrison, Leeanna Rubin, Andrew Scoggin, and Kaley Were and Swings including dance captain Kolten Bell, Carly Ann Moore, and assistant dance captain Sophie Stromberg (Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham). DIGITAL PROGRAM: TRAILER: TOUR VIDEOS: 2022-23 TRUIST BROADWAY AT DPAC SEASON: THE PRESENTER/VENUE:,,,, and DIRECTIONS: PARKING: DPAC COVID-19 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: THE TOUR:,,,, and TOUR CAST: TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: THE SHOW:,,,,, and TICKETS: $25 and up, plus taxes and fees. Call 800-982-2787 or click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): 919-680-2787, [email protected], and INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or [email protected]. Kurt Benrud's Review Permalink. Susie Potter's Triangle Arts Review Review.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh's Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read more of Susie Potter's writings, click,, and


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