The curly-topped sisterhood of Annie
WRY BREAD - Philip Cu-Unjieng (The Philippine Star) - October 30, 2016 - 12:00am

While watching the ongoing revival of the 1977 Broadway musical Annie at the Newport Performing Arts Theater in Resorts World Manila, I got all nostalgic and ruminative, thinking of the magical journey taken by this show and the child performers who have taken on the role of redhead orphan Annie.

Based on the comic strip that made its debut in 1924, there is more to the musical than meets the proverbial eye. Tackling such subjects as economic depression, cruelty to children, and the political landscape of the early 1930s, the songs and lyrics speak about hopefulness, optimism, and how dreaming can direct one’s life and transform circumstances. And yes, it takes on all this themes while being a genuine family outing.

When it had its first Broadway run, the show garnered seven Tony Awards, and the original cast headed by Andrea McArdle as Annie and Reid Shelton as Daddy Warbucks led the charge. I had the chance to watch in 1979 with my Mom, who always had a special place in her heart for the theme of the play, given her own personal story of having been adopted. McArdle was no longer in the cast, but portraying Annie was a then unknown, who would decades later lead the cast of a super-hit TV series, and even show up here in Manila a few years ago to formally open SM Aura at Bonifacio Global City — yes, my Annie was Sarah Jessica Parker! The following year, 1980, Repertory Philippines acquired the rights to stage Annie in Manila and cast Lea Salonga in the title role. Think then about the journeys these “Annies” have taken, all starting with the opening lines of their first solo song, Maybe. To merely say the rest is history is the understatement of the year.

Over at Resorts World, the present staging of Annie runs until Dec. 4 and it is a real treat to watch such unbridled enthusiasm and professionalism brought to the stage when you consider how young so many members of the cast are. Michael de Mesa as Warbucks, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Miss Hannigan, and Jill Peña as Grace Farrell all create stage magic; but ultimately, we know they will inevitably take a back seat to the young thespians who portray Annie. Krystal Brimner and Isabeli Araneta Elizalde alternate as Annie; and on the afternoon I caught the show, it was Krystal, whose singing voice and assuredness on stage really impressed me. My cousin, Joysie Rufino, had watched Beli on another night, and she declared her “absolutely adorable and cute.” I recall how on Broadway, songs like It’s a Hard Knock Life and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile are the song opportunities for the other orphans to shine; and such was the case with Precious Galvez who takes on the role of the moppet, Molly, the littlest orphan of the lot. I do regret not having watched Alba Berenguer-Testa as Tessie. I have seen Alba, as daughter to Javi and Lexi, grow up, as Lexi would often take her to the office at ABS.

Krystal Brimner is a real find. Last year, at the Metro Manila Film Festival, she copped the Best Child Performer for her work in Erik Matti’s Honor Thy Father — and she’s all of nine years old, while Beli is 10. To watch these girls so tender of age and yet so confident and assured on the stage is a revelation, bringing home just how talented so many Filipinos are in acting and singing; and it really often is just a matter of exposure and opportunity. In my recent visit to New York, I had the chance to share a meal with Regina de Vera, who, thanks to a local community outpouring of financial help, got to live her dream of enrolling at Juilliard, where she is now in her second year of a two-year course. She was talking to us about the work load, the reading material, and the very rigid schedule of rehearsing and performing; and she was saying all this while beaming from ear to ear. We can only hope that the likes of Krystal, Beli, Alba and Precious can fulfill the wonderful potential they are showing via Annie; and see Lea Salonga as a guiding light to what one can achieve...when the sun comes out, Tomorrow!

In the meantime, they deserve our support, for they are turning every performance into a showcase of just how far dreaming can take you.

RESORTS WORLD MANILA
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