The leaders of the Children's Theatre Company, Peter Brosius and Kimberly Motes, welcomed patrons back to their Minneapolis playhouse Friday with what sounded more like a pep rally than a usual curtain speech. They were exuberant because their theater was open for in-person performances again after 19 months.
But they may also have been happy for another reason — "Annie" is an absorbing triumph. Director Peter Rothstein's revival of the musical by composer Charles Strouse, writer Thomas Meehan and lyricist Martin Charnin teems with melodic hope, heart and inspiration.
Rothstein first staged "Annie" for CTC in 2011 on a cityscape created by set designer Vicki Smith and with choreography by the late Michael Matthew Ferrell. He uses the same set for this production but has brought in Kelli Foster Warder to create new, evocative dances that speak to the character's inner lives and external circumstances.
This revival also boasts precise, subtle music direction by Victor Zupanc, whose orchestra swells to take in the sweep of emotions from "It's a Hard-Knock Life" to "Tomorrow" and "Easy Street."
The show has stellar performances all around. With her voice and charm, Audrey Mojica, who alternates the plucky title role with Lola Ronning, brings moxie and sunshine to the stage. And she's expert at handling Sunny, the rescue pooch that played Sandy for years on Broadway and is now making her CTC debut. (Sunny alternates performances with Bailey, another rescue dog.)
Mojica and Ronning lead the talented corps of child actors such as Elsa Dungan-Hawks (Molly), Madelyn Davis (Tessie) and Mari Peterson-Hilleque (July).
On the adult side, JoeNathan Thomas uses his booming bass baritone and smooth delivery to infuse billionaire businessman Daddy Warbucks with majesty and grace. His Warbucks, who goes from reluctant host of an orphan girl to a gleeful adoptive father, brims with effervescence and joie de vivre.
CTC initially scheduled "Annie" for spring 2020, when the mood of the country did not align as neatly with the musical as it does today. The story is set during the Great Depression when hope seems like a fool's errand. But Annie, an orphan who has been looking for the family that gave her up, possesses it in spades. She never gives up the search even after Warbucks' right-hand woman Grace Farrell (Janely Rodriguez) invites her into the Warbucks estate for the holidays.
Emily Gunyou Halaas, who played strident headmistress Miss Trunchbull in "Matilda" in spring 2019, takes on the role of Miss Hannigan, a besotted tyrant of the orphanage, with droll wit. She finds not only the cartoon-like villainy of her character but also the feral desperation.
It's a credit to the gifts of Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund, who are married in real life and play the scamming stage couple Lily St. Regis and Rooster, that they have not become parodies of themselves. They push their characters to their comic limits, even grossing out some kids in the audience by sharing the same piece of chewing gum.
The cast also includes surefire CTC company members Dean Holt, whose roles include President Roosevelt and Mr. Pugh, the chef at the Warbucks estate, and Gerald Drake, as Drake, also a member of the Warbucks household staff. Together, they help to make this "Annie" a spritzer of hope for COVID-weary souls.
Who: Composed by Charles Strouse with lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan. Directed by Peter Rothstein and choreographed by Kelli Foster Warder.
When: 7 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 1 & 5 p.m. Sat. & Sun. Ends Jan. 9.
Where: Children's Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls.
Protocol: Masks required for ages 2 and up. Vaccination cards or proof of negative COVID-19 test for ages 12 and up.
Tickets: $15-$88. 612-874-0400 or childrenstheatre.org.