The Hard-Knock Life? Island Theater Company stages ‘Annie Jr.’

Lance Shearer

“The show must go on,” says Broadway lore, and the Island Theater Company took that to heart, not letting a little thing like a major hurricane dampen their production. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the group staged “Annie Jr.,” billed as a condensed version of the smash hit musical “Annie,” but providing a full theatrical experience.

All the beloved songs were there, along with the plucky “lil” orphan Annie, Oliver Warbucks, the gruff tycoon with the marshmallow heart, the scheming Miss Hannigan, and what looked like on the stage at Marco Lutheran Church’s fellowship hall to be a cast of thousands.

“We lost two weeks of rehearsal before the show thanks to Hurricane Irma,” said director Pat Berry. “And the cross at the church fell off the roof into the church, so they were holding their services in the great room with us.”

Miss Hannigan, Rooster and Lily St. Regis yearn for "Easy Street." The orphans proclaim "It's a Hard Knock Life." With a cast of dozens, the Island Theater Company presented five performances of "Annie jr." over the weekend at Marco Lutheran Church.

As a result, the stage sets had to be struck and replaced repeatedly, and there were bizarre malfunctions of sound and lighting systems even during the four shows in three days this weekend, mostly invisible to the audience. Like real troupers, the cast and crew plowed ahead, echoing the irrepressible optimism of “Tomorrow,” despite enduring a little of “The Hard Knock Life.”

Berry, founder of the Island Theater Company, had to step in as director when the scheduled director came down with mononucleosis. She had nothing but praise for both the actors, their hosts at Marco Lutheran, and the behind-the-scenes workers who made the production possible.

Opening night on Friday, Annie was played by Eden Krumholz, who shared the part with Ashley Francis, each girl taking the part of Pepper, another of the orphans, when not in the title role.

“We kept auditioning them, and we couldn’t decide,” said Berry. “Each brought her own strengths and her own interpretation,” with Eden’s acting counterbalanced by Ashley’s singing.

There were 29 young girls in the show, playing dirty-faced orphans or black and white-clad servants in the Warbucks mansion. Although presumably well-fed and with happy home lives, the island kids made adorable orphans. The adults were played by adults, except for one boy, Tyler Mastrangelo who was not intimidated, said Berry.

“He said, ‘I’m the only boy? Great. I get all those parts.’” Tyler played police lieutenant Ward, radio announcer Bert Healy, and a servant.

Abby Yetter was a standout as appropriately odious orphanage director Miss Hannigan, and Carl Back played a convincing Oliver Warbucks. He got Marco Island laughs with his comments about “what do Democrats eat?” when he summoned President Roosevelt, played by Judy Daye in an antique wheelchair, to his mansion for the show’s climax.

The logistics of moving 40 actors on and offstage in such tight quarters are mind-boggling for anyone who has been associated with theatrical productions, and even on opening night, it went off without a hitch, although the sound system was booming in the front row, with a couple “hot mic” moments when two miked-up actors touched.

The show did a good job of breaking down the fourth wall for the New York NBC radio studio scene, with the cast coming through the aisles as newsboys, kicking as Rockettes, and even offering quick shoeshines to audience members. The set design by John Moulton and costumes by Debbie Pinizzotto lent just the right air of 1930s shabbiness and glamor.

Leo and Brenda King flew from Vancouver, British Columbia to see their granddaughter Eden Krumholz as Annie, and afterward were beaming.

“We came a long way, but it was worth it,” said Leo King.

Island Theater Company’s next production will be a repeat of last year’s popular “Singing Broadway” from Feb. 23 to 25, followed by “Nana’s Naughty Knickers” in March and April. For more information, call 239-394-0080, email info@theateronmarco.com, or go to the group’s website, TheaterOnMarco.com.