It’s right before rehearsal last week at the Warehouse Theatre, and “Annie” director Brandon Lamb is telling me that he sometimes cries when he hears his 10-year-old star sing.
I’m nodding but I figure it’s hyperbole, a director saying nice things about the little girl he cast. The girl, Grace Marshall, is a newcomer to the stage whom Lamb picked based on her voice.
“Because she’s not trained, her voice is so raw,” he says. “It’s so pure. It sounds cheesy, but I get tears in my eyes every night just because it’s so raw and so innocent.”
Sure, man. Tears in your eyes. That’ll make a nice quote. But then rehearsal starts and Marshall sings, and I see what Lamb is talking about. Her voice really is special; it probably could bring tears to a grown man’s eyes.
It’s not some belt-it-out stage voice. It lacks the bravado for that. Instead there’s a vulnerability to it, this feeling that Marshall is pushing it to the point where it very well could crack and shatter into a thousand pieces on the stage. But it never does. She reins it in just before it hits that point. It is also a subtly emotive voice, one that understands intuitively the gray areas between distinct emotions.
“It’s not a show voice,” says Brian Van Dyke, the Warehouse veteran who plays Daddy Warbucks. “But she has great pitch, great tone, she projects. She’s just an incredible girl to work with.”
All of the kids in the show have been good to work with, though, he says. It’s a huge cast — 52 people selected from the more than 200 who auditioned — and the kids have been leading the way since rehearsal began, Van Dyke says. The show shines during the big choreographed production numbers, in which Marshall’s Annie leads the her rag-tag gang of orphans through their paces.
Van Dyke’s Warbucks, whom he plays with an aching sincerity, grounds the story in reality. There’s none of the bombast typically associated with the role (though Van Dyke’s stature and his shaved head do some of that work); instead we see a more relatable Warbucks.
“When you see this big, massive guy start to lose those exterior walls, it makes the audience start to melt,” Lamb says.
That’s a departure for Van Dyke, whose recent Warehouse roles have been largely comic. Lamb knew Warbucks was a departure for Van Dyke.
“I said, ‘I’m really hesitant to cast you because it’s such a serious, straight role. You can’t just be the big goofball, because that’s just not the character,’” Lamb says.
But he cast Van Dyke on faith, and it has paid off with a tender dramatic performance.
“You pull from personal experience, the relationships you have in real life,” Van Dyke says. “You try to communicate this discomfort in the beginning. And this kid comes in and breaks all of that down.”
Julianne Goberville, fresh off the title role in “Hello Dolly” over the summer, provides comic relief as orphanage supervisor Miss Hannigan. She gets a significant boost from Danny Akin and Ryan Clinkenbeard as Hannigan’s brother, Rooster, and his floozy girlfriend, Lily, respectively. Their Act One performance of “Easy Street,” in particular, is a well-timed little gem.
That’s one of the only “little” things about the show, though. Mostly it’s a whirl of moving parts, loaded with action, dancing and singing.
“We have 52 people in the cast,” Lamb says. “That’s one of the largest we’ve ever had here. We could have done it with a lot less, but the idea of community theater is to get the community involved.”
That has meant long rehearsals, often beginning at 6:30 p.m. and lasting past 10. But by last week, things were running smoothly. Watching rehearsal, Lamb didn’t appear to be crying at all. But he was ecstatic.
“That’s great, Gracie,” he shouted to Marshall after one number. And then, to himself, excitedly, “She’s so on tonight.”
• Pat Muir can be reached at 509-577-7693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.