ACT's 'Annie' romps along in strong voice
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Kids, dogs, Christmas! What's not to like?
It's hard to believe that the musical "Annie" has turned 30 years old, but the depression-era orphan story based on the popular comic strip first opened in 1976 and won several Tony awards the following year.
Among the child stars who played the optimistic youngster is Sarah Jessica Parker, now a jaded graduate of the "Sex and the City" television series.
But the musical trundles on, now in its third production by Army Community Theatre, and is the perfect fit for successive generations of stage-struck young girls in search of a hefty role.
ACT has a winner in Channing Weir, who is just the right age to play the spunky ragamuffin and who possesses just the right junior Ethel Merman-belting stage voice for the music. She also sings with excellent enunciation and pitch.
Directed by Brad Powell, this Annie is better behaved than the scrappy street fighter we might expect. Still, Weir has the aplomb to manage a scene-stealing dog while delivering "Tomorrow," Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin's everlasting hymn to optimism. It's a wonderful stick-with-you number that can still raise goose bumps, even when reprised in harmony by FDR's cabinet, led by Richard McWilliams.
Weir also leads the orphan girls in the show's second big number, "It's a Hard Knock Life," which is sung well, but would benefit from choreographer Katherine Jones adding sharper, and more syncopated bucket and brush action.
Also inhabiting the orphanage is Shari Lynn as nasty old Miss Hannigan. Lynn, however, doesn't get the numbers that would show her off to best advantage and must do what she can with the dark and driving "Little Girls." She also joins Ethan Okura and Lisa Young as the con artists who pretend to be Annie's parents on the more up-tempo "Easy Street," which also would benefit from enhanced choreography.
Leonard Piggee is consistent and ultimately convincing as an overly mannered Oliver Warbucks, but still projects a tangible aura as the world's richest and most confident man. Karen Valasek as Warbucks' personal assistant is rigidly bound by circumspect behavior and their awakening love interest is barely hinted at. Richard Valasek is a caricature of Roosevelt, but a winning one.
Set pieces designed by Jon Savage fly in and out with great style, melting one locale into another, and Powell amplifies the effect by overlapping action between radio show and orphanage with characters who share both spaces at the same time. When a chandelier and lighted Christmas tree simultaneously slide into view for the Warbucks' Christmas party, they visually underscore the building emotion.
Ernest Taniguchi conducts a solid orchestra that punches up the overture and adds good support to the entire show.
"Annie" is an uncomplicated, feel-good musical that clearly distinguishes between good and bad and assures an uplifting finale.