Review: Far from raggedy 'Annie'

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2011 - 7:18 PM

Children's Theatre offers a gorgeous rendition of the classic musical that rivals the original Broadway show.

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A scene from “Annie” at the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis. Megan Fischer as Annie is first rate in the title role.

Photo: Dan Norman, Dan Norman Photography 2010

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At nearly 35, "Annie" may have a secure place near the center of the musical theater galaxy. But its age and status sometimes mean producers and directors treat it with all the grandeur of a dish cloth. I have seen some raggedy production of this multiple Tony-winning orphan fairy tale.

Blessedly, the musical by Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) is new to the Children's Theatre, where it opened over the weekend. That freshness, not to mention a first-rate cast and creative team, may help explain this gorgeous staging.

Director Peter Rothstein and his actors have stylishly brought out the show's humanism and heart. And they have done it with a wonderful sense of play, including the comic use of Dean Holt in multiple male and female parts.

Even with a pre-recorded orchestra (ugh) that sounds thin at the outset, this "Annie," whose title role was played by Megan Fischer on the night I saw it, is magnificent.

Most remember the New York-set Depression-era story about the charming little girl who, with others in the orphanage, suffers under the iron rule of soused, saucy Miss Hannigan (crabby Angela Timberman). When the laundry man comes to the orphanage, Annie steals away. She is caught by police and returned just as Grace (pleasant, beneficent Teri Parker-Brown), the assistant to billionaire magnate Oliver Warbucks (Lee Mark Nelson), is visiting. Grace has come for an orphan to join the Warbucks household for Christmas. She chooses Annie.

Fischer is top-notch in the title role. In her acting and singing, including on big numbers such as "Tomorrow," she imbues her irrepressible title character with sweetness, light and promise.

Nelson, also a swell singer, delivers a swaggering, kind Warbucks. He and Fischer have a good chemistry, so much so that much of their nonverbal communication is clearly telegraphed to the rest of us. (There is a matter of visual scale in the scenes between them that is solved by simple direction. Fischer's Annie tucks her legs up when Nelson's Warbucks lifts her; otherwise, she may seem too tall, or he too short.)

The cast includes Reed Sigmund as Miss Hannigan's shady brother Rooster and Autumn Ness as his moll girlfriend Lily St. Regis. Sigmund has given Rooster a hiccup-like tic. He and Ness, a real-life married couple, also share chewing gum onstage, often enough to gross out my second-grade companions. No matter, they deliver the dreamy scam anthem "Easy Street" with style.

"Annie" includes small turns by Gerald Drake as butler Drake, Brandon Brooks as Bert Healy, and the pooch Tulip as Sandy. The show has numbers fetchingly choreographed by Michael Matthew Ferrell that play out against Vicki Smith's evocative and grand backdrops.

This "Annie" is so good, it rivals the New York versions I have seen, including one of the later performances of the Broadway original that ran from 1977 to 1983.

  • ANNIE

    What: Book by Thomas Meehan. Music by Charles Strouse. Lyrics by Martin Charnin. Directed by Peter Rothstein.,

    When: 7 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. Sat. Ends June 12.

    Where: Children's Theatre, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $16-$40. 612-874-0400 or www.childrenstheatre.org.

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