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It’s amazing what a difference a couple of years makes. In the middle of March 2006, when NETworks Presentations, LLC’s National Tour of Annie last played Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as part of the Broadway Series South series, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was hovering around 11,300. As of 4:20 p.m. today, the Dow is down to around 7,550. Happy days are definitely not here again; and a big question is, will George W. Bush replace Herbert Hoover as the president whose policies helped fuel the biggest financial meltdown in U.S. history?
That said, the 2008 edition of Annie is a welcome pick-me-up for Triangle theatergoers drowning in the current tsunami of bad economic news. It is a fresh new take on the familiar 1977 musical with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and a book by Thomas Meehan, based on Harold Gray’s classic newspaper comic “Little Orphan Annie.” Charnin, who directed the Broadway debut of Annie 31 years ago, teams here with choreographer Liza Gennaro, daughter of show’s original choreographer Peter Gennaro, to freshen up the musical staging and add nifty new bits of comic business throughout the show. The result is a crowd-pleasing performance that brought the rocketed Broadway Series South audience to its feet for a lengthy standing ovation after Wednesday night’s performance.
Spectacular sets by Tony Award-winning scenic designer Ming Cho Lee — especially the snowflakes fluttering outside the dome of the glass-domed grand staircase of Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks’ Five Avenue mansion during a white Christmas — and visually striking recreations of an impressive array of 1930s fashions — from glad-rags to just plain rags — by original Annie costume designer Theoni Aldridge — make this production a treat for the eye, just as the scintillating instrumental accompaniment by musical director Adam Jones and the Annie orchestra sent the Wednesday-night audience into Raleigh’s frigid streets humming, whistling, or even singing aloud “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” “Tomorrow,” “Easy Street,” or one of the show’s other hits.
Tianna Stevens and David Barton headed a stellar cast. Her spirited performance as Little Orphan Annie and his charismatic characterization as billionaire munitions manufacturer Daddy Warbucks warmed the cockles of many a heart. Stevens’ solos on “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” and duet with Barton on “I Don’t Need Anything But You” also numbered among the show’s musical highlights.
Lynn Andrews is a delight as Miss Hannigan, the bad-to-the-bone, whiskey-swilling mistress of the New York Municipal Orphanage; and Zander Meisner is a pip as her ne’er-do-well brother, Rooster, a bunko artist who foolishly targets Warbucks for his next scam. Analisa Leaming is sweet as Warbucks’ devoted secretary Grace Farrell, who has a major-league crush on her boss; and Cheryl Hoffman is funny as Rooster’s roundheeled girlfriend and not-so-bright partner in crime Lily St. Regis.
Other standouts include Jeffrey B. Duncan as newly inaugurated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Kenneth D’Elia as his potty-mouthed Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, Ricky Pope as Warbucks’ butler Drake, and Jillian Wallach as a Star to Be (who contributed a sparkling solo during the “N.Y.C.” production number). Mackenzie Aladjem is a scene-stealer as Molly the littlest orphan, and Mikey provokes ohs and ahs during his cameo appearances as Annie’s beloved mutt Sandy.
If your spirits are as low as the Dow Jones on a bad day, then Annie is a potent antidote that substitutes irrepressible hope for paralyzing pessimism. Dr. Robert recommends its as a cure for the Bailout Blues.
For more information on Broadway Series South's presentation of Annie see our theatre calendar.