See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!

Annie opened on the Great White Way in 1977 and it quickly became a worldwide hit, winning seven Tony Awards including Best Musical. Based on Harold Gray’s comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” the musical made a star of Andrea McArdle, and had people all over the world singing the delightful score created by composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin.

Axelrod PAC’s production of Annie is directed and choreographed by Al Blackstone, an Emmy nominee for TV’s So You Think You Can Dance.

Blackstone’s vision of Annie opens on Christmas Eve in the stately home of a little boy who loves to read.

The boy is often overlooked by the adults around him until a maid gifts him a book about a little orphan girl named Annie.

As the boy reads, the story of 11-year-old Annie (Echo Deva Picone), who lives in the Municipal Girls Orphanage with a group of young female orphans, comes to life.

The facility is run by the comically wicked Miss Hannigan (Andrea McArdle).

Annie decides to escape to find her parents, but is caught by Miss Hannigan. When a laundry man leaves with the laundry, Annie climbs into his laundry basket and escapes again.

Out on the street, Annie runs into a friendly stray dog, whom she names Sandy.

As she comforts Sandy, she tells him of better days yet to come before a policeman catches her and brings her back to the orphanage.

Grace Farrell (Kate Marshall), assistant to the billionaire, Oliver Warbucks (Patrick Oliver Jones), arrives at the orphanage asking for an orphan to spend the Christmas holiday at Warbucks’ mansion. Grace asks to take Annie, and Miss Hannigan reluctantly agrees.

Once Annie leaves, Miss Hannigan expresses her hatred for all of the girls in the orphanage.

At the Warbucks mansion, the staff welcomes Annie with open arms. At first, Mr. Warbucks is not happy to have an orphan in his presence, but over time, he realizes that he loves Annie and wants to adopt her.

Highlights of the show include young actress Echo Deva Picone, as Annie, who endears herself to the audience with her optimistic rendition of the timeless, “Tomorrow.”

Andrea McArdle vamps it up as she performs a captivating rendition of “Little Girls.”

Bringing her experience of being one of those little girls to the song, her interpretation is comical and loose as she sings her way through the number.

Patrick Oliver Jones captures the audience’s hearts with his wistful rendition of “Something Was Missing.” Tenderly singing about having everything except love in his life, Mr. Jones makes the role of Oliver Warbucks his own, bringing it to life with sensitivity and style.

After viewing a performance of the show, we chat with Patrick Oliver Jones who reveals, “What I like about this production of Annie is director Al Blackstone’s vision to encapsulate the story and make it more contemporary. For example, he opens the show with the story of the little boy who gets the book of Annie which leads him to discover a whole new world, so it’s a new way to get the audience into a story we all know and love.”

“Also, in this contemporary version,” exclaims Jones, “I get to keep my own hair!”

When asked about performing in the Garden State, Jones — who lives in NYC— says, “I’ve never performed in New Jersey before and I’m grateful to Al Blackstone and Axelrod Artistic Director Andrew De Prisco for this wonderful opportunity.”

With regards to working with his co-star, Andrea McArdle, Jones remarks, “Working with Andrea is so exciting — she’s a lot of fun! She knows the show better than anyone else and she’s shared so many of her experiences with the cast. It’s also been interesting watching her do that flip from playing the sunny and optimistic Annie to the comically dark character of Miss Hannigan.”

Concludes Jones, “This version of Annie boasts such a good-vibe, good-feeling show and cast — and the audiences have been just great!”

We also get to chat with the child star of this production, New Jersey’s own Echo Deva Picone, who plays Annie.

Declares Picone, “This is my dream — it’s my first play! I’ve loved working with Al Blackstone and Andrea McArdle,” adding, “I was so nervous the first time I met Andrea in our NYC rehearsal space, I went running into another studio! But she is so amazing and nice — she’s not at all like Miss Hannigan.”

Notes Picone, “I love working with all my orphan friends in the cast. Also, working with Marti — the dog who plays Sandy — has been a lot of fun!”

Continuing, “We rehearsed for a month for this show, so I’ve been home-schooled,” Picone is happy to disclose, “Today some of my teachers from school came to the performance — it was so cool seeing them!”

When asked if acting in shows like Annie is something she’d like to continue as she gets older, 11-year-old Echo exclaims, “YES! It’s so much fun — I just want to keep it going!”

Annie has performances on Nov. 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, and 17 at 8 pm; Nov. 10, 11, 17 at 2 pm; Nov. 11 at 7pm; and Nov. 18 at 3 pm. (NOTE: Emily Crehan takes the place of Echo Deva Picone as Annie on Sun. Nov. 11 at 7 pm and on Sat. Nov. 17 at 2pm.) All performances take place at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center, located at 100 Grant Ave, in Deal Park, NJ. For tickets and information call 732–531–9106 or click on axelrodartscenter.com