Theatre Cedar Rapids — through Dec. 10
By the end of the Theatre Cedar Rapids production of Annie, you may want to adopt Evie Kunz, in the title role, yourself.
Kunz, a sixth grader at Regis Middle School, is delightful as Annie, the little orphan who finds a new home with one of the richest men in 1930s America. She is a top-notch singer, beautifully delivering her character’s signature songs, including “Maybe” and “Tomorrow,” whether they call for subtlety, belting or both. She winningly leads a strong cast through the 1977 classic by Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics).
There is much to like in the production, which is directed by James Kern. The large ensemble, asked to sing and dance in a number of different capacities, does so with energy and panache. The orphan children — including the impossibly adorable Rigley Ohrt as Molly — deliver whiz-bang performances, including “Hard Knock Life” in the first act and “Fully Dressed” in the second. The latter nearly brought the house down.
Marcia Hughes, truly one of the area’s most impressive vocalists, is deliciously evil as Miss Hannigan who rails against “Little Girls” and conspires with her brother, Rooster (Brett Borden), and his girlfriend Lily (Sara Maslowski) in a quest to live on “Easy Street.”
Hughes’ husband, Scot Hughes, is no singer, but he is wonderful as Oliver Warbucks, the influential and imperious billionaire whose heart is stolen by his orphan guest. His scenes with Kunz at heartwarming, especially when they share a dance and the characters’ affection for one another shines through. Hughes’ uncertainty around some of the notes he’s asked to sing actually feels of a piece with his character’s uncertainty about his new role in Annie’s life.
Anne Ohrt plays Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ secretary, and she is very good throughout the show. She doesn’t overplay her character’s affection for her boss, but reveals just enough at just the right times to put the notion of a new family of three in play.
On opening night, there was very little to quibble about. Debut canine actor Ralph Abdoney, portraying Sandy the dog, apparently had opening night jitters and hilariously forget his blocking. The first few numbers, which include the most famous songs in the show, were delivered at tempos that were perhaps slightly too fast — though by and large, Benjamin Schmidt’s orchestra was terrific, especially drummer Ryan Hoagland. The script provides the cast with a weak closing number, “A New Deal for Christmas,” but Kern and company ameliorate the problem by singing a lovely a cappella arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” at show’s end. Some of the historical jokes in the script don’t land — I felt lonely laughing at a joke about the League of Nations — but there’s little the cast could do about that.
Bret Gothe’s set, Joni Sackett’s costumes and Amanda L. Mayfield’s lighting design all served the production well. Mayfield offers a magical lighting moment as the show draws to a close, drawing the audience into the world of the musical.
Annie is set at Christmas, but it isn’t about Christmas, making it a good holiday show for folks who are ready to dip a toe in the season but don’t want to be fully immersed. That said, this production is a gift for families who can share it together.
Annie continues through Dec. 10. Tickets are $31-40, and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 319-366-8591.