By Janee Law
It both was and wasn’t a hard-knock life for the crowd at John W. Engeman Theater during a recent showing of “Annie.”
Following that performance late last month, which included a brilliant rendition of the show’s most iconic tune, “It’s the Hard-Knock Life,” the audience erupted in a standing ovation for the talented cast.
Engeman’s production, which is directed and choreographed by Antoinette Dipietropolo, simultaneously tugs at heartstrings and keeps laughs and fun coming with its ensemble cast of talented young girls and adults, as well as a pair of canine companions.
Based on a popular comic strip, “Annie” was adapted into a musical and won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Engeman’s take on the classic production features unforgettable numbers like “It’s the Hard-Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” “New Deal for Christmas,” and “Tomorrow.”
The show begins with a New York City setting in December 1933. From there, the audience follows the rags-to-riches story of Annie (portrayed by Presley Ryan), a warm-hearted and fearless orphan girl who finds a father figure in Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks (portrayed by George Dvorsky).
The relationship between Annie and Warbucks is captivating, charming and melts hearts.
Ryan, the curly-haired redhead star of the show, said she loves playing the role of Annie. “She is such a fun character to play. She’s really spunky but then she’s also got that sweet side to her, and she’s really vulnerable at times too.”
Ryan, 13, continued, “She’s one of the only main roles that a kid could play in a show like this so it’s really great that I get to do this because I’ve always wanted to play Annie.”
Discovering the different sides of Annie’s character was especially enjoyable for Ryan as she prepared for the role, she said. “The changes throughout this show are so fun to do and finding all the different sides of her,” she said. “I love the songs and the show, and singing is so fun for me.”
Ryan said her favorite number is “Tomorrow,” during which she performs alongside Sandy (portrayed by Moon), a stray dog. She added that that pairing keeps her on her toes.
“You never know what’s going to happen. … You never know if [the dog] is going to go off the stage, so you have to be fully focused,” Ryan said, adding that “it’s also such a fun song.”
“I love singing ‘Tomorrow’ and belting my face off,” she added.
Annie and her orphan companions keep the energy high through their performances of “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” during which they mix in-sync choreography with adorable sass.
Humor is found throughout the show too, especially when Miss Hannigan (portrayed by Lynn Andrews) steps on stage. As the tormented Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage, Andrews manages to perfectly combine harshness and comedy.
Her comedic delivery is especially on point in “Little Girls,” and in the hysterically-dramatic dancing of “Easy Street.”
Audience members Wendy and Jeffrey Balzer, both of Huntington, called the character one of their favorites. “Miss Hannigan was fabulous,” Wendy said. “Her whole personality, her expression, the way she danced, and her energy. Everything about her was fabulous.”
Jeffrey added that, along with the dog Sandy, the relationship between Annie and Warbucks was his favorite part of the show.
“I was very-well entertained,” Jeffrey said. “It was a great production.”
Showings of “Annie” at Engeman Theater run through Dec. 31. Thursday and Friday showings are at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. There are some 8 p.m., Wednesday showings available, too.
Tickets ($73-$78) are available at the 250 Main St. box office or at EngemanTheater.com.