Lo­cal ac­tors shine in sunny, sweet mu­si­cal

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ali­son Mayes

NO mat­ter what the weather, the sun’ll come out ev­ery night at Rain­bow Stage’s up­lift­ing pro­duc­tion of An­nie. The ex­u­ber­ant De­pres­sion-era mu­si­cal about an 11-year-old’s search for the par­ents who left her on an or­phan­age doorstep may be naive in its op­ti­mism. (Hey, as An­nie ob­serves at one point, if you’re re­duced to us­ing news­pa­pers for blan­kets, at least you can read in bed.)

It may be a wish-ful­fil­ment fan­tasy on a grand scale: Who doesn’t want a bil­lion­aire like Oliver (Daddy) War­bucks to res­cue them from drudgery and lav­ish them with gifts and af­fec­tion?

But the show that opened Thurs­day at the Kil­do­nan Park stage is also a Cin­derella story whose plucky hero­ine earns her happy end­ing by stay­ing hon­est, un­selfish, open-hearted and up­beat in spite of be­ing abused.

Ku­dos to nine-year-old Transcona res­i­dent Zoë Adam for pump­ing out those qual­i­ties in her en­dear­ing per­for­mance in the ti­tle role.

If Zoë is less pol­ished in her stage pos­ture and danc­ing than some of her fel­low or­phans, she makes up for it in spunk and a huge, pure, un­af­fected voice. Dur­ing the first act, that voice — am­pli­fied by a head-set mi­cro­phone — was so pen­e­trat­ing that it be­came un­pleas­antly pierc­ing at times. It was bet­ter mod­u­lated later on.

The hard­est knock suf­fered by An­nie here is hav­ing to wear a cop­per page­boy wig for most of the show (she doesn’t get her trade­mark curls un­til the adoption cer­e­mony). Al­though the smooth page­boy has been pulled back off Zoë’s face, mak­ing it not quite as ridicu­lous as it is in the pro­gram pho­tos, the de­ci­sion to use it is bizarre.

Un­ruly red curls are an es­sen­tial part of An­nie’s iconic iden­tity, dat­ing back to her de­but in 1924 in the comic strip Lit­tle Or­phan An­nie. It’s as mis­guided to tam­per with them as it would be to put hair on War­bucks’ bald pate.

This pro­duc­tion of the 1977 Broad­way hit is an im­pres­sive show­case for lo­cal tal­ent. Thirty-four out of 35 cast mem­bers, as well as skilled di­rec­tor Donna Fletcher and chore­og­ra­pher Kim­ber­ley Ram­per­sad, are Win­nipeg­gers. The trueto-pe­riod sets and cos­tumes are rented from a Cal­i­for­nia com­pany, aug­mented with lo­cal pieces.

As War­bucks, the profit-ob­sessed in­dus­tri­al­ist who al­lows An­nie to spend Christ­mas at his New York man­sion and has his heart melted by her, Kevin Aichele could be more aloof ini­tially. But he’s just about per­fect af­ter that, his voice an ef­fort­less de­light, es­pe­cially on the waltz­ing love song Some­thing Was Miss­ing.

Paula Po­to­sky as War­bucks’ kindly as­sis­tant Grace, Tom Soares as the scummy vil­lain Rooster, Sa­man­tha Hill as the floozy Lily, Tim Gled­hill as ra­dio crooner Bert Healy and Steven Rat­zlaff as the slightly dotty Franklin D. Roo­sevelt are all su­perb.

As Miss Han­ni­gan, the frowsy, gin-swill­ing Rain­bow Stage To Aug. 31 Tick­ets at 204-989-0888, www.rain­bow­stage.ca

out of five war­den of the near-Dick­en­sian or­phan­age, Deb­bie Maslowsky can’t avoid com­par­i­son to Carol Bur­nett, the bril­liantly mon­strous Miss Han­ni­gan in the 1982 movie. Maslowsky is funny, but could milk more out of the out­ra­geous kid-hat­ing har­ri­dan.

Still, the bur­lesque num­ber Easy Street, in which she, Rooster and Lily plot their fraud­u­lent claim on An­nie, is the high­light of the show.

The dozen girls who play the raggedy or­phans are sen­sa­tional. With fierce, uni­fied en­ergy, they nail Hard Knock Life, the fa­mous knock­about num­ber about their mis­er­able ex­is­tence. Meaghan Moloney is an adorable au­di­ence favourite as the lit­tlest or­phan.

With tunes — some of them for­get­table — by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Mee­han, An­nie is not in the same league as clas­sic kid-cen­tred mu­si­cals like Oliver! and The Wizard of Oz. But it’s a crowd­pleaser that flies by, de­spite clock­ing in at two hours and 45 min­utes in­clud­ing in­ter­mis­sion.

Adults can savour the witty his­tor­i­cal snap­shot of 1933, with ref­er­ences to the likes of Babe Ruth, Eliot Ness, J.P. Mor­gan and Louis Bran­deis, and tart re­minders of eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion that off­set the tale’s sweet­ness.

Jake, the cute-as-heck lo­cal mutt who plays Sandy, ac­quit­ted him­self well on open­ing night. It’s de­light­ful to see him cross the stage in the midst of big ensem­ble num­bers.

The stage show lacks the movie’s ac­tion-ad­ven­ture el­e­ments (and the ex­otic char­ac­ters of Pun­jab and the Asp), but ex­presses An­nie’s yearn­ing for a fam­ily more clearly and poignantly.

By the time the sig­na­ture song To­mor­row is reprised at the end, even if your day was grey and lonely, you’ll just stick out your chin, and grin and… You know the rest.


Don’t they know there’s a De­pres­sion on? An­nie (Zoë Adam) and Daddy War­bucks (Kevin Aichele) en­gage in some soft shoe.

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