Everybody's favourite redheaded moppet, Little Orphan Annie, is a pop culture icon dating back to the 1920's who leapt (leapin' lizards!) to renewed life on the Broadway stage in 1977, then in the hit movie that has kept her firmly in people's hearts ever since. Now Annie arrives at Burnaby's Michael J. Fox Theatre for a solidly entertaining and handsomely realized production that brims with all the charm, humour and pathos one hopes for in this classic show.
Newcomer Camryn MacDonald arrives from Delta Youth Theatre (and Perry Ehrlich's “Showstoppers” youth chorus) well prepared to take on this high-profile role, and brings her winning demeanour and abundant vocal talent to the role. We're rooting for her from the outset, as she tangles with the reprehensible, little-girl-hating Miss Hannigan (Erin Matchette, sinking her teeth into, and getting plenty of laughs out of, an against-type villainous role).
But a big surprise comes in the form of tiny Naomi Tan, a borderline toddler with full-size performing chops who threatens to steal the show outright. She had the audience in the palm of her hand every second she was on stage, particularly in "Hard Knock Life", where her expert mimicking of Miss Hannigan sent ripples of delight through the opening-night audience.
Though played with a light touch, there is an invariably sombre undertone to this story of a little girl whose parents are likely deceased but who clings to the hope that they'll return to claim her. "Maybe", her imagined vision of the home life of her real parents, is always a heartbreaker. And "Tomorrow" may get ribbed for its (supposedly) simplistic message, but there's a reason for its longevity - it's a winner of an anthem that can hardly be faulted for the catchiness that made it ubiquitous.
The entire score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin is delivered with brassy aplomb by the fine 12-piece orchestra under Kevin Woo's direction. And for those who (like me) only knew the movie version, but loved the songs, there's a musical bonus: several numbers that, typically for a Broadway-to-Hollywood transition, were left out of the 1982 film. Thus we get "Hooverville", which takes aim at U.S. President Herbert Hoover, whose policies were held responsible by many for the extent of the Great Depression; and "NYC", an ode to the greatest city in the world.
The cast are uniformly excellent. The 12 orphan girls are a tightly-knit ensemble who each make distinct impressions. Arne Larsen is an imposing figure as the bald-headed, almost comically rich and politically connected industrialist Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. Laura Cowan is a perfect blend of crisp efficiency and maternal concern as Warbucks' secretary, Grace. Robin Sukorokoff is properly avuncular and presidential (remember when presidents had that quality?) as President Roosevelt. And Morgan Collins as the very proper butler, Drake, even gets a couple of out-of-left-field laughs of his own.
"Annie" has stood the test of time as a tribute to plucky optimism in tough times, buoyed by a memorable score full of beloved songs and a rags-to-riches underdog storyline. All of these elements are wonderfully realized in Align's new production. If it's true that you're never fully dressed without a smile, your ensemble will be complete with a wide grin by the end of this tremendously entertaining show.