After a glorious drive from Texas, across the great state of Oklahama (where we had lunch in the lobby of a cavernous Walmart), we arrived in Northwest Arkansas. Continuing with our great cultural examination of the American south, we took in some community theater in Springdale, AR, at the Art Center of the Ozarks.
The theater at the ACO was almost full on a Friday night, and there was something in the air. That something was the condensation of the audience's breath, so cold was the inside of that theater. Rebecca tucked up underneath her dress, and I wrapped my arms in a few rags that my aunt Sheila happened to have in her car, and we settled in for a few hours of entertainment. The audience was filled with children and the (possibly) proud parents of the many actors playing the orphan girls (there were probably 25 young girls playing orphans, ranging in age from about 6-7 to maybe 11-12). The girls behind us were playing a game which consisted of one girl asking: "Who's playing...Sandy?" and another girl reading from the cast list: "Honey." For those of you unfamiliar with the musical, Sandy is Annie's dog, and the Honey, who played Sandy, gave a truly awe-inspiring performance on Friday night.
A few notes about the performance itself. All of the chorus numbers done by the orphan girls were overpoweringly adorable. They sang pretty well and did their choreography dutifully, and there was this enthusiasm and earnestness on their little faces that was truly a joy to behold. Some of them didn't entirely know their lines, and from time-to-time a few of them appeared to be looking off into the wings for direction, but on the whole they seemed confident and comfortable on the stage, even hamming it up and playing to the audience.
The same cannot be said for the chorus numbers performed by the adults. These numbers (like "Hooverville" and "NYC") had the same mostly amateurish feel of the orphan numbers without the incredible cuteness. Seeing a man in his fifties bumbling his choreography or a woman in her thirties singing 30 cents flat has a different effect; it is much more sad and much less, well, adorable.
My harshest review goes to the performance of Evan Crawford, who played Miss Hannigan, the cruel drunk who runs the orphanage, and has a great deal of animosity towards the children in her care. It was clear the director was familiar with the 1982 film version of "Annie," starring Carol Burnett. Miss Crawford was clearly mimicking the masterful performance by Miss Burnett, but it was a far miss. Her slurs were too slurry, and she shouted most of the notes in her songs. She lacked dynamic range; the whole performance was pitched at 10. For reference, check out Carol Burnett's performance below, then amplify it by 10.
The two best individual performances were by Lucy Rossi (Annie) and Honey (Sandy). Lucy's Annie was full of wholesome and earnest "oh boy" energy, and she had good pitch and projection. She seemed confident up on that stage, particularly during some of the adult chorus numbers, where she stood off on the side and occasionally chimed in. She seemed much more at home on the stage than most of her adult counterparts. There were a few awkward moments between her and Daddy Warbucks (Jim Blount), particularly during the melodramatic "I don't need anything but you."
Miss Rossi and Honey, her loyal English sheep dog, had the most chemistry on the stage. After Annie escapes from the orphanage and wanders the mean NY streets, she comes across a dog (who himself had escaped from the wandering dog catchers). The stage went dark except for a lone, trembling spot light on Annie, who called out a confident: "Come here boy!" Then from the darkened wings of the stage emerged Honey in all his glory. He went straight to Miss Rossi's side, looking up into her eyes for approval. So adorable was this scene that Rebecca and I both broke into gales of uncontrollable laughter, which continued through almost the entirety of Miss Rossi's (possibly touching) rendition of "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow." We sincerely hope that the people sitting around us didn't think we were laughing at Miss Rossi; it's just that the dog was so incredibly cute.
One other thing to note about out time in NW Arkansas. We drove about 45 minutes yesterday to get a replacement filter for my Toddy cold brew coffee system, and on the way back we encountered a flash flood. It was very exciting. We're going for a run in Hobbs State park, and then for a swim in Beaver lake this afternoon. It's hot here, but it seems that little Miss Rossi was correct last night when she sang: "The sun will come out tomorrow."