Annie Jr.

The Secret Theatre, Manhattan

Of course, this cast of more than two dozen singing and dancing youngsters is adorable. But are the kids any good?

By Andrew Andrews

Daddy Warbucks (Christopher Simcox) and his assistant Grace (Lauren Cho) offer Annie (Chiara Acosta) a new home in the Warbucks mansion. Original photo by Reiko Yanagi.

Not only has the musical based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie been produced two dozen times for the big stage and screen; it is estimated to return as many as 900 times each year in school and community theaters across the United States.

So it comes as no surprise that The Secret Theatre Academy, just over the bridge in Long Island City, would present a limited run featuring a cast of only children, given their long-popular, family-friendly productions of Princess Particular and Pirate Pete’s Parrot.

With songs so catchy that even Jay-Z famously sampled one, Annie (Junior) tells the story of an eleven-year-old orphan in Depression-era New York City, saved from evil headmistress Miss Hannigan by lonely millionaire Daddy Warbucks just in time for Christmas.

This was our first time attending a show at The Secret Theatre, and I was pleased by how easy it was to reach, taking the 7 train just three quick stops out of Manhattan. Not only that, but with comfy reserved seats—unusual for a theatre this size—that even include cup holders, and a snack bar with pizza that looked and smelled enticing, I was impressed by how much better the theater-going experience can be when you’re willing to venture such a short distance into Queens!

Although I’m sure our opening night, sold-out crowd included plenty of friends and family of the performers, we didn’t know any of the cast, yet we thoroughly enjoyed the show. Overall, the talent was stronger than you’d probably expect from an off-off-Broadway production, let alone one comprised entirely of dozens of child actors. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of shows in Manhattan that didn’t measure up, despite having older and (presumably) more experienced names on the bill.

Sure, there were a few stammered lines from the youngsters, and others who need to work on their projection. It’s also understandably difficult suspending disbelief when adult roles are portrayed by kids who are barely out of single digits, and I missed hearing a live orchestra accompanying the songs. But the direction and choreography were reasonably tight, the singing was delightful, and even the costumes and set were of a much higher caliber than expected.

After seeing that The Secret Theatre can deliver such a positive experience with a young cast, we’re not going to let the brief ride into Queens deter us from returning for a more “adult” production in the future!

Andrew Andrews attended Annie Jr. at The Secret Theatre in Manhattan on Thursday, September 5, 2019 @ 7:00pm to write this review.