"Annie" is about optimism. Set during the Great Depression, Annie's response to a homeless person's complaints of empty pockets is, "At least you have pockets!"
It is still a timely message.
Given the flood of recent news about ISIS, racist tunes from certain fraternity members, and 6-foot snowdrifts, this production -- on stage at the Auditorium Theatre through Sunday, March 15 -- is a breath of fresh air, likely to make most audience members feel pretty darned good about tomorrow.
Based on Harold Gray's popular comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie," the show opened on Broadway on April 21, 1977, and ran for 2,377 performances, garnering seven Tony Awards in the process. At the helm of the creative team was Rochester-educated Charles Strouse, who enrolled at Eastman School of Music at the age of 15 and earned his bachelor of music degree in 1947.
Strouse wrote the music for "Annie," with lyrics by Martin Charnin (who also directs the current touring production) and book by Thomas Meehan. To-date, the show has been running somewhere around the world for the last 38 years and has been performed in 28 languages.
"Annie's" opening night on Tuesday started off a bit rough. Sound was compromised due to a malfunction by the road company's digital sound board. Annie and her six fellow orphans just couldn't be heard, so the show temporarily came to a halt while technicians re-booted the system. Problem solved.
This is a solid production. Nine-year-old Issie Swickle, who hails from Davie, Florida, is charming in the title role, displaying a strong singing voice that belies her young age.
Gilgamesh Taggett is a compelling, yet loveable, Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. Thankfully, he doesn't scream his part, as did Albert Finney in the 1982 film version of the show. Taggett shares several tender moments with Swickle, particularly during the song "Something Was Missing."
Kudos also to Ashley Edler in the role of Grace Farrell, Warbucks' secretary-turned-significant other. Edler is a sensitive actor with a most pleasant voice.
One of the show's trickiest roles to play is Miss Hannigan, the ruthless orphanage matron. An actress tackling that part has to contend with the work of past heavy hitters, including Carol Burnett, Sally Struthers, Nell Carter, and Jane Lynch. Lynn Andrews was more than up to the challenge. She is hilarious, with impeccable comedic timing. Moreover, this woman can dance, as evidenced during the number "Easy Street."
In addition, choreographer Liza Gennaro -- daughter of famed choreographer Peter Gennaro -- deserves praise for her work staging dance and movement throughout the musical.
JCC CenterStage opened its 40th season doing what Ralph Meranto does best: producing a new national work, with local actors, for local audiences.