Annie at Gallery Players

This review of Annie at The Gallery Players was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Written by Thomas Meehan
Music by Martin Charnin
Director: Mark Harborth
Director of Production: Scott Andrew Cally
Set Design: Joshua Barilla
Lighting Design: Christopher Chambers
Choreographer: Emily Clark
Tap Sequence Choreographer: Robin Rivers Friday
Costume Design: Barbara Erin Delo
Music Director: Paul Helm
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 9/22/17

The Gallery Players' production of Annie was simply marvelous. Anchored by a strong cast, this classic story of the hard-knock orphan who miraculously becomes the adopted daughter of Oliver Warbucks, melted the hardest hearts while remaining accessible to the plethora of children in the audience. Of all the actors, the most important were the orphans and these kids were great. This started the show off on a strong note and as each stage change showcased the staff's attention to detail, the audience could only be more impressed by this touching tale of fortune favoring the luckless.

Entrenched in the American canon, Annie became a musical in 1976 and ran for nearly six years on Broadway starting in 1977. The trio of Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin based the original musical on a comic strip that debuted on August 5, 1924, in the New York Daily News. This, in turn, was based off a 1885 poem written by the American writer James Whitcomb Riley. Having entertained audiences around the world in various forms for almost a century and a half, the musical adaptation of Annie's story was no different and has seen a myriad of revivals, productions, and tours worldwide over the past 40 years. You can bet your bottom dollar that The Gallery Players gave Annie its due. A number of the actors and actresses truly impressed.

From Gallery Players facebook page.

From Gallery Players facebook page.

Among the highlights were the popular songs sung by Annie in the musical. The young Emma Grace Berardelli did a great job in the lead role, especially when she sang "It's A Hard Knock Life" and "Tomorrow." I still have the tunes in my head, and her positive attitude and outlook on life should be adopted by all (not just FDR and his senior cabinet.) Berardelli's ability and stage presence were remarkable alongside talented acting veterans many years her senior. This hard work and dedication will pay off for years to come.

One of the best performances amidst the spotlight on Annie was by Luisa Boyaggi as Miss Hannigan. Convincing as a drunk and frustrated orphan matron, she brought out the best in her character in solo songs and with Alex Domini as Rooster Hannigan, her brother, in a solid "Easy Street." Her ability to scold, wince, yell, and throw her arms up in surrender was a testament to the complexity of the role. She made the character stand out as a complex, multi-dimensional woman with desires and fears as she waited wistfully beside the radio for a wanting bachelor while tormenting and being tormented by the girls in her care.

Heather Gault as Grace Farrell also impressed me. She looked the part perfectly as Oliver Warbuck's personal assistant becoming ally and confidant to the young Annie while maintaining posture and presence in both the orphanage and beside Mr. Warbucks. She had a knack for delivering her lines in such a way that perfectly communicated underlying meanings which mark classic plays like Annie as some of the best.  

I would recommend Annie to anyone getting to know American culture as well as families. This absorbing story is both fluid and dynamic, and The Gallery Players did more than a solid job. The ensemble of actors even pulled off a notable dance number (thanks to Choreographer Robin Rivers Friday) that brought me back to videos of Fred Astaire at the 1970s Oscars show. Annie runs through October 8, 2017. Tickets - $30.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors and children 12 & under - can be purchased by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101, or by visiting  

Lucky at Dixon Place

This review of Lucky at Dixon Place was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Presented by Atlas Circus Company
Created & Directed by Henry Evans & Tommy McCarthy
Production coordinated by Cody Johnson
Stage managed by Annie Corrao
Lighting designed by Alex Womer
Choreography by Tyler Holoboski
Dixon Place
161-A Chrystie Street
New York, New York 10002
Reviewed 8/15/17

Lucky surprised me with a combination of good, old-fashioned slapstick fun and a modern storyline. The mixture provided a family-friendly atmosphere punctuated by excellent commentary delivered by one five-year-old girl in the audience who had other guests laughing in hysterics when she said things like "It's so funny!" and "Is he going to eat it?" Thankfully, the timely remarks of a five-year-old are not necessary to enjoy Lucky. It is performed silently in the classic style of an early motion picture film. David Evans accompanied the action on the piano, which took place in front of a cartoon animation displayed on a big screen. Black cutouts with white chalk introduced each scene and inside each of these, the Atlas Circus crew impressed continuously with acrobatic stunts and good choreography. Even without a line of dialogue, Lucky communicated a deeper critique of modern society than almost all of the contemporary plays I've seen in the last year. There were scenes about the office 9-5, waiting tables, and chasing after a dream to be an actor all while being ever so close to finding love in this great city of New York. The modern conundrum, indeed, punctuated by stunning routines filled with daring flips!

The structure and characterization of this play done by Henry Evans felt like something ripped out of time. Yet, somehow Lucky managed to touch on so many aspects of life in the city today. From hunger to the struggle for mythical success to finding time for love. It was funny and made comical use of old Saturday Cartoon style cliches such as banana peels and whipped cream-pies.Lucky starts off with a pictorial sequence where Lucky, the character (Henry Evans), is sent off on his way to New York. At first, he has trouble adjusting to city life. His things are stolen (by Leo Abel's character), and he has a "good time" trying to get them back running around after Leo. Leo and Russell keep eating food in front of him in various roles including a funny sequence where Russell approaches him as a hot dog man. For the remainder of the play, these other three actors (Leo Abel, Russell Norris & Avery Deutsch) take turns targeting the young man, Lucky.

Deceptively calm before the fun of Atlas Circus's performance begins.

Deceptively calm before the fun of Atlas Circus's performance begins.

Leo typically plays a thief who ends up sneaking off with all of Lucky's belongings except for his briefcase which Lucky somehow hangs onto in a fun circus sequence. Following the opening scene mentioned earlier, Lucky attempts to peacefully spend the night in a park. Once asleep, Leo appears and after making off with everything but Lucky's shoes, he goes after Lucky's briefcase. Through many complex acrobatic maneuvers and back and forth with the muscular Leo, Henry Evans remains "asleep" with his head cocked slightly and the snooze button on. He snores loudly and somehow the two (Henry & Leo) make feats of balance and strength look easy whether the briefcase is in Henry's mouth or in his hands. Eventually, Leo is able to open the briefcase and reveal to the audience that there is nothing remaining within. Lucky wakes up to find that all he has left are his stinky shoes and his briefcase.

The other two play somewhat more "helpful roles." Russell Norris is every boss. Sometimes sauntering in. Other times running in with high knees and waving his arms. He made hilarious noises while Leo's character littered in the park or Henry's character disappointed him in some new way. With each job Lucky took, Russell's tall and lanky frame would end up tapping Lucky or Henry on the head and sending him away. That is until finally Russell, as a construction foreman, bursts into laughter after Henry attempts to acrobatically reach for a sandwich he's dropped from a swaying beam at a construction site.

Avery Deutsch represented the many love interests of Lucky in New York. She works with him at every job and is always just that elusive. Russell Norris even duct taped Lucky to a chair so he wouldn't peek over into the next cubicle at her. The duct tape didn't stop the two from dancing together beautifully, but somehow just before they kiss, she always seems to be pulled away. Avery did give a striking performance lip syncing to Ella Fitzgerald's Hernando's Hideaway. "All [we] see are silhouettes" indeed. So much fun!

There was no dialogue to delve into, but there was great attention to detail. At one point, Lucky wanders down a street and the theaters say, "Not you," "Cancelled," and "Someone else" before flipping to Lucky for a brief moment and then back. I would recommend this show to anyone who is looking for a good time and an interesting theater performance. For the younger crowd, the play is just fun and engaging. For the refined theater-goer, there is enough there to think about while enjoying magic tricks and the athletic circus routine expertly performed by Atlas Circus. Shows ran Tuesdays and Wednesdays from August 1st through 16th at Dixon Place, so hopefully, they will bring it back. Do check out @AtlasCircus on Instagram to follow these performers and see what they are up to next and when.