On Easy Street with the Hollywood Bowl production of ‘Annie’

Aug. 2, 2018, 4:39 a.m.

Directed by Michael Arden, “Annie” at the Hollywood Bowl was an unforgettable experience from the moment it opened. With a three-day run that brought together actors, singers and multi-talented performances for a star-studded production, “Annie” was well worth the show. “Annie” was performed with a 19-piece orchestra directed by Todd Ellison — and the overture to “Annie,” with its piercing horn section, was spine-tingling in an incredible way as it cut through the Bowl as the performance began.

“Annie” excels in its presentation and simple but effective execution. With a clever set design by Dane Laffrey, large letters that spell out “Annie” transform into doorways and various set pieces when turned around, their insides hollowed out. The letters and orientations drastically transform the stage without the need for elaborate set dressing. The rotating stage also made for a nice touch, with the orchestra elevated on a platform. The platform, supported by black metal beams, made for a more “urban” look, while the letters made for a more flexible suburban set that turned into the orphanage, Roosevelt’s offices and Warbucks’ home.

The lighting design was a nice touch that utilized the technology of the space. Because of the voluminous ceiling, lights could be projected in layers onto the ceiling in various colors as well as onto the floor, creating an immersive effect despite the fact that the Bowl is not a traditional theatrical space. Additionally, because of the familiarity of “Annie” as a “household musical” of sorts, a certain benefit of the space was having flexibility in staging and not needing to completely deck out the Bowl to give the full impression of a staged production — the audience could fill in the rest.

Kaylin Hedges plays an absolutely heart-warming Annie, her voice ringing out with such a purity even barely afforded to many Broadway actors, capping it off with a solid vibrato. Hedges is accompanied by a collection of other children, with impressive vocal performances from the child actors. Lea Salonga (as Grace Farrell) is charming as always, albeit with a confusing part-Translatlantic, part-Southern accent that ends up slightly more confusing than stylistic, but nevertheless sets off Grace’s wholesome mannerisms. David Alan Grier plays a lovable Warbucks, and he has strong chemistry with both Salonga and Hedges.

Megan Hilty plays Lily St. Regis with such conviction that you quickly hate to love her. She has a drastic change in timbre that is reminiscent of the many traditionally “dumb blonde” roles she has played (Brooke in “Noises Off,” Glinda in “Wicked,” Ivy in “Smash”). Sometimes you wish that she broke out of it, but she’s so good at it that it’s simply iconic at this point. She’s given a chance to shine but ultimately overshadowed by the multi-character musical numbers that — disappointingly — give her iconic powerhouse vocals no chance to shine. Ultimately, it comes with the character. Nevertheless, Ana Gasteyer is the hidden gem of the production, playing an equally amusing (“It’s…medicine!”) and terrifying (“Rotten orphan!”) Miss Hannigan, mixing her strong vocal chops and vibrato with her SNL-esque comedic timing. It’s even a bit sad when she finishes her big “Little Girls” number and you’re let down when you think she won’t be back — until you remember that thankfully, she will be.

“Annie” is just one of many special performances at the Hollywood Bowl. Make sure to catch future events there — you won’t be disappointed.

Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Olivia Popp was a managing editor of Arts & Life for volumes 251 through 254 and the editor-at-large for The Stanford Daily's board of directors for volumes 254 and 255. She hails from Michigan and enjoys science fiction TV shows, independent film festivals, and the Bay Area theater scene.

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