Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

With Sarasota's Tori Bates, Touring 'Annie' Is a Charmer

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

With Sarasota's Tori Bates, Touring 'Annie' Is a Charmer

Article excerpt

THEATER REVIEW

I thought I had sworn off reviewing "Annie" a few years ago. Having seen it countless times since the show's pre-Broadway tryout in Washington, D.C., 40 years ago (leapin' lizards), I didn't think I had anything left to say about a musical that was losing some of the charm that had touched my heart at the start.

But how could I resist seeing Sarasota's Tori Bates, who stars in the latest national tour that arrived Tuesday for a two-night stand at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall? Last spring, she demonstrated some promising vocal skills and a strong personality in her role as the young Josephine Baker in the Asolo Repertory Theatre's production of "Josephine."

Tori pushes all the right buttons as the world's most famous orphan in this musical set during the depths of the Depression and based on Harold Gray's long-running Little Orphan Annie comic strip.

The character of Annie, like the show, stands up for optimism. Despite being left by her parents at a now run-down New York City orphanage as an infant, Annie never gives up hope of finding them, even 11 years later. And when she is invited to spend a two-week Christmas holiday with the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, he uses all his influence with the FBI and the White House to track her parents down.

The latest tour, like most of those that have crisscrossed the country in the last few years, is staged by its original director and lyricist Martin Charnin. And the choreography by Liza Gennaro evokes the spirit and look of the original dance routines created by her father, Peter Gennaro.

Concessions have been made for a tour schedule of frequent one- and two-night stands in the varied sets by Beowulf Boritt that capture the seedy environment of the orphanage and the opulence of Warbucks' mansion.

Charnin gives the new production a faster pace, perhaps acknowledging that so many in the audience are now familiar with the story by Thomas Meehan and Charles Strouse's still catchy songs from previous productions or the several feature films and television versions.

The tempo of the songs also is faster than I recall in the past, which made it difficult to truly hear lyrics (that I know by heart) when the lively group of orphans is singing "It's the Hard Knock Life" or "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile. …

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