Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Annie (Playhouse Square Center)


The comic strip, Little Orphan Annie first appeared in 1924. It was based on James Whitcomb Riley's 1885 poem of the same name. In the comic strip version, Annie, an orphan, was taken in by Oliver Warbucks, a prototypical capitalist. Together they tackled international intrigue. Annie's main physical characteristics were a mop of red, curly hair and vacant circles for eyes. She is always accompanied by her dog, Sandy and is noted for her catchphrase, "Leapin' Llizards!."

In 1997 an award-winning musical appeared on Broadway scene. In August of 2005, “The Brand New Production” of ‘ANNIE’ went on tour. It is that version that is now on stage at the Palace Theatre.

The show centers on Annie, an orphan abandoned by her parents during the depression. She is left at an orphanage, which is under the tyrannical control of Miss Hannigan. Warbucks decides to host an orphan for Christmas. He wants a boy, winds up with Annie, and the rest, complete with plot twists and a happy ending, is history.

This touring production features the delightful Marissa O’Donnell as Annie. This is a very talented young lady who can sing, dance and act with amazing abilities. John Schuck of “McMillan and Wife” TV fame looks the role, performs well, and adequately sings Daddy Warbucks. Local opening night found Victoria Oscar more than adequately substituting in the role of Miss Hannigan. The orphan kids, some of whom are a little too old to be playing “adorable,” were not up to expected levels. Their dancing lacked unity and their singing often missed proper blendings.

The show is definitely dated. Few in the young audience had any knowledge of the depression, the importance of radio in the pre-TV culture, and of President Roosevelt. Many of the clever lines were missed because of this lack of audience awareness.
Songs like, “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover”
and “A New Deal for Christmas” have lost their relevance.

As I have done when children-friendly shows appear at local theatres, I took my grandsons, Alex and Noah Berko, along as my “kid” eyes and ears. In spite of the datedness, the 10 and 8/1/2 year olds “really liked” the show. They both thought Annie was, “great”
and Miss Hannigan “hysterical.” They loved the special effects, particularly “the real snow falling on Christmas” and the “huge tree.” They were very pleased that Sandy, the dog, was “real, not someone dressed in a dog suit like some of the kid’s shows we see.” Their favorite orphan was Tessie (Casey Whyland) whose constant “Oh, my” squeals were the cause of delight. They loved looking down into the Palace Theatre’s big orchestra pit during intermission and thought the theatre was “awesome.” Both boys had seen the movie version several times, so they were familiar with the music and the story line, which I think helped enhance their experience.

Capsule Judgment ‘ANNIE’ is a dated, but cute show. It is a little long for younger audience members, but any child over 8 should enjoy it. This will probably be the last of the touring versions of the show, so if you want to see a professional company, this may be your final chance.