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.

WAYNE GLOWACKI/WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

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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