Eugene Weekly : Theater : 4.9.2009


Hope Amidst Hoovervilles
Annie shines at the Cottage Theatre
by Anna Grace

Could it be any worse for Annie? In a tough, poorly run orphanage at the height of the Great Depression, little orphan Annie has nothing but a big heart, a tenacious spirit and half a locket from her parents to get her through.

Abigail Howell as Annie

If you remember the musical Annie as a saccharine, high-energy, red-haired hope-fest, I urge you to reconsider. The stage version deals directly with the bleak effects of the Depression, from angry homeless people in “Hoovervilles” to frustrated industrialist Daddy Warbucks. The cast first sings “Tomorrow” when Annie is meeting FDR at the White House, where his Brain Trust members are at their wits’ end trying to solve America’s economic problems and address the rising tide of fascism in Europe. 

While I can’t go so far as to say the play provides satisfying economic or political commentary, it is much more relevant than I had expected, and Marcee Long directs an extremely talented cast. Amazing Laura Hiszczynskyj charms as motherly Grace Farrell. Carol Burnett can move over in my book; her Miss Hannigan has been bumped by the electric Nikki Pagniano. Pagniano can sing and dance, and she cultivates a hysterical disdain for little girls. Rob Rudeen convincingly plays so many different roles that when he appeared as Chief Justice Brandeis, I began to wonder whether he was gunning for Eddie Murphy status. Also noted for fine performances should be Ken McClintock (Rooster) and Dylan Ferguson, a highly likable FDR.

 A few cast members reminded me that this was community theater, and a few moments of direction were too stage-y and unnatural, but overall this was the most impressive cast I have seen assembled onstage at the Cottage Theater. The orphans are predictably adorable and universally talented. While I didn’t always like the way they had been directed, individual personalities shone, making them a loveable group. Abigail Howell’s big voice and cheerful smile make for a sweet, spunky Annie. Very good dog PeJay plays Sandy, and the other critters running from the dogcatcher were equally deserving of dog treats.

Should you take your kids? Probably. I chatted with a few of the youngest patrons in the audience. Most of them were familiar with the piece, having viewed the video twice daily for months, and therefore enjoyed the show immensely. If your child has not seen the film, I would suggest a previewing. Annie can be frightening, what with the loss of Annie’s parents and other adults actively trying to harm children. My 4-year-old daughter is fairly blasé about such things and would love the dancing orphans. My 6-year-old son is considerably more sensitive and still hasn’t made it through Finding Nemo. I plan to take them to Cottage Grove, but only after suitable preparation.

Should you go at all? Yes. For those of you who could use a little nostalgia, a break from the mundane or a little cockeyed optimism, I fully recommend this show. 

Annie runs through April 26. There will NOT be a performance on Sunday, April 12 (Easter). Tix at or 942-8001.