Review: My Name Is Annie King (Underscore Theatre)

| May 7, 2017 | 0 Comments

Amanda Giles and the cast of My Name Is Annie King, Underscore Theatre            
      

My Name Is Annie King
 
By Aaron Albert, Katy Rea (music, lyrics)
    and Krista Pioppi (book)
at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
thru May 28  |  tix: $20-30  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
    


    
  

Beautifully haunting score, wobbly story

  

Royen Kent and Paige Daigle star in My Name Is Annie King, Underscore Theatre

    
Underscore Theatre Company presents
    
My Name Is Annie King

  
Review by Lauren Whalen

Cults are dangerous multi-headed animals, and history is full of fascinating examples. Typing in “cult” on YouTube or Netflix yields a slew of TV clips and documentaries, and googling “Jim Jones” will swiftly lead you down a rabbit hole of guns, Guyana and Flavor-Aid (not Kool-Aid). In sum, cults are incredibly easy to research, and it doesn’t appear that the creators of My Name Is Annie King did any research whatsoever. At times, the backwoods Missouri “Family” seems more like a commune than a cult (and the two are very different in purpose and result). While the world premiere musical has a gorgeous and evocative bluegrass score, and Underscore Theatre Company’s production boasts several compelling performances, My Name Is Annie King’s whiny male protagonist and scattershot plot ultimately lead to its downfall.

Foline Roos, Jeff Mills, Royen Kent, Paige Daigle, Maeghan Looney, Amanda Giles and Demi ZainoMy Name Is Annie King opens with Lucas (Royen Kent) drunkenly attempting his father’s eulogy. They were never close, and when Lucas failed to earn a medical residency, his plastic surgeon dad grew even more distant. In a drug- and alcohol-fueled haze, Lucas ends up in rural Missouri where he hits a man with his car. The man turns out to be Cash (Jeff Mills), a charismatic father figure who lives off the land with a group of younger women. Their days are filled with hunting and gathering, their nights with eerie rituals and consumption of a mysterious, hallucinogenic “white drink.” Lucas is quickly sucked in to the simple ways of Cash and company, but trouble arises when he falls in love with Cash’s adopted daughter Rosalie (Paige Daigle). Rosalie has been raised in The Family by Cash and his primary partner Hannah (Maeghan Looney), but longs for a world outside the woods. She too feels a connection with Lucas, but struggles with her place in the Family and Cash’s strange obsession with keeping her “pure.” Meanwhile, Hannah is also growing unsatisfied with sharing Cash.

The central issue with My Name Is Annie King is Lucas, who’s the focus of the musical’s first act. While it’s often necessary to have a stranger/newbie-type character to introduce the audience to an insulated group or environment, I wish the creators had done better than an unsympathetic and immature man-child with daddy issues. There’s nothing original or likable about Lucas (though Kent has a respectable voice and an incredible knack for guitar), and literally every other character is more compelling and fascinating. Speaking of characters, three Family members are underdeveloped and basically background players with a few lines. The other major issue is the inaccuracy of the cult phenomenon. Cults are insidious, so much that members don’t know how far in they are until it’s too late to escape – sometimes with deadly consequences – or they’re raised in a cult, like Rosalie, and know nothing else. My Name Is Annie King doesn’t delve into what drew these lost souls into Cash’s world, and though Hannah has strong character moments in the second act, the climactic moment feels forced and unearned.

Royen Kent with the cast of My Name Is Annie King, Underscore TheatreAmanda Giles and the cast of My Name Is Annie King, Underscore Theatre Royen Kent and Paige Daigle star in My Name Is Annie King, Underscore TheatreFoline Roos, Britain Gebhardt, Maeghan Looney and Demi Zaino star in My Name Is Annie KingRoyen Kent and Jeff Mills star in My Name Is Annie King, Underscore Theatre

On the plus side, Aaron Albert and Katy Rea have penned a bluegrass score that’s both wistful and powerful, beautifully executed by a group of talented musicians. The harmonies are haunting, the lyrics smart and the music reminiscent of the heartland. Mills is the definition of charisma, and it’s utterly believable that people would follow Cash anywhere, even in his darker moments. Looney’s Hannah is perfection, so emotionally complex and interesting that I wish her character had more to do in the first act. And Daigle has the voice of an angel and killer stage presence, bringing an intelligent naivete to Rosalie that makes her wonderful to watch.

If phenomenal songs and excellent performances were enough to save a show, My Name Is Annie King would have a higher rating from me. Unfortunately, the cult aspect and many of the characters are underdone, undermining the new musical’s huge potential. And if I never see another fragile male lead character, it will be too soon. My Name Is Annie King is good in many ways, but with more fleshing out and research, could become much, much better.

  
Rating: ★★½
  

My Name Is Annie King continues through May 28 at Pride Arts Center (The Broadway), 4139 N. Broadway (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 5 pm and Mondays at 7:30 pm. Additional performances Saturday May 20 at 3 pm, Thursday May 25 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, May 27 at 3 pm.  Tickets are $20-30, and are online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at UnderscoreTheatre.org.  (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission)

Paige Daigle, Amanda Giles, Britain Gebhardt, Maeghan Looney, Demi Zaino, Royen Kent and Jeff Mills

Photos by Evan Hanover


  

artists

cast

Paige Daigle (Rosalie), Royen Kent (Lucas), Jeff Mills (Cash), Maeghan Looney (Hannah), Britain Gebhardt (Mav), Demi Zaino (Emma), Amanda Giles (Clemmie), Foline Roos (Ellenore), Josiah Robinson (swing)

musicians

Josiah Robinson, Perry Cowdery, Stephanie Rohr, Zach Suechting, Todd Aulwurm

behind the scenes

Alex Higgin-Houser (Director), Rachel Elise Johnson (Assistant Director), Royen Kent and Meagan Piccochi (Co-Music Directors), Eli Zoller (Orchestrations), Solomon Hoffman (Music Supervisor & Additional Vocal Arrangements), Eric Luchen (Scenic Design), Erik Barry (Lighting Design), Rachel Lambert (Costume Design), C. Elias Nelson (Stage Manager, Puppet Design), Jesse Case (Sound Design), Holly McCauley (Props Design), Courtney Winkelman (Scenic Painter), Karla Meyer (Sound Board), Mario Mazzetti, Isaac Loomer (Casting), David Trudeau (Master Electrician), Josh Prisching (Technical Director), Geoff Bleeker (Production Manager), Beth Ann Weinstock (Assistant Stage Manager), David Rosenberg (Public Relations), Evan Hanover (photos)

Paige Daigle and Royen Kent star in My Name Is Annie King, Underscore Theatre

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, Musical, Pride Arts Center, Underscore Theatre, World Premier

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