Annie shows off local talent

Talent is aplenty in Cayman, and if you require proof, just head to the Prospect Playhouse theatre to see the Cayman Drama Society’s latest production, Annie.

With a cast of 42 – almost half of whom are children – the musical is one of the larger productions to hit the local stage in recent years. Also on the cast list is Sammy Jo, a real, live dog, who plays Sandy, Annie’s runaway mutt who steals her heart – and everyone’s in the audience at the same time.

Standouts in the show included Neil Rooney in the role of Oliver Warbucks. Anyone who has seen the 1982 film production of Annie remembers Albert Finney in the role, with his booming billionaire voice and tough exterior which is gradually broken down as Annie works her way into his executive lifestyle. Mr. Rooney’s voice is so like that of Mr. Finney’s that you have to blink to check that you are not in fact seeing Albert Finney live on the Cayman stage.

His chemistry with Isabella Rooney, who plays Annie, is also undeniable, but makes sense – they are, after all, real-life father and daughter. It was touching to see them perform onstage together, and it made the audience root for them all the more.

Dori Stayton, who co-directed the musical, was also notable with her spot-on comedic timing and impressive singing voice, in the role of Miss Hannigan. Not afraid to be the villain onstage, Mrs. Stayton took creative risks and combined physical comedy with punchy dialogue. Miss Hannigan was everything she should be – terrifying, vindictive, but also somewhat vulnerable – a difficult combination to master. Adults in the audience should enjoy seeing occasional glimpses of Miss Hannigan’s human side, particularly in the song Easy Street.

Rory Mann clearly has a great time playing villain Rooster Hannigan, Miss Hannigan’s money-hungry brother, and the audience has a great time watching him. He embodies the character from start to finish and, together with Miss Hannigan and Ashley O’Neill as his girlfriend Shirley, they make up the villainous trio of the play that the audience loves to hate.

Wendy Moore was well-cast as Oliver Warbucks’ graceful and ladylike assistant Grace Farrell. The children playing the orphans all performed remarkably – belting out chorus tunes with amazing volume and pitch and showcasing their moves with choreographed numbers that are a treat for the eyes.

Some may miss the character Punjab from the film version but Roland Stacey as Mr. Warbucks’ butler Drake adds comedic touches in a way that suited the stage.

Isabella Rooney of course deserves special mention. As a 10-year-old taking on the role of an 11-year-old – one that is more often than not played by teenagers in other stage productions – she had no small task to accomplish. But she carries the play, with a delightful singing voice, excellent delivery and – clearly – a photographic memory. If any mistakes were made you wouldn’t know, as she was the consummate professional, and more than held her own onstage with actors three or four times her age.

The set design transported the audience to 1930s New York, where the Great Depression rendered many homeless. The contrast between the orphanage and Hooverville scenes contrasted with the luxury of Mr. Warbucks’ mansion and emphasised the plight of many during this time.

It’s true that the play remains relevant today, from the economical woes to the switch in US presidency that left many with hope that the new president would bring a brighter future.

Other must-sees: Dan Twist’s natural talent as Burt Healy and an amusing turn as Harold Ickes, and Adam Roberts’ performance as President Roosevelt, which makes the White House scene come alive.

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