'Annie' Bubbles with Optimism

By Eberson, Sharon | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

'Annie' Bubbles with Optimism


Eberson, Sharon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The sentiment behind "Annie" is one for troubled times: No matter how bad things seem right now, this, too, shall pass. For the whole family, there's also the joy of witnessing a pre-tween girl sing up a storm and go from hard knocks to high society. She's the real deal who gets the New Deal on course, and if you don't know what the New Deal is, well, you get to see a little girl inspire a president to create jobs and boost the economy.

As heroines go, how cool is that?

"Annie" is a history lesson packaged in a plucky little redhead who finds optimism where none is evident. Created as the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," introduced in 1924, the musical adaptation by Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) remains thoroughly rooted in its times yet delivers that timely message of hope.

The national tour now at the Benedum Center is a swell production that succeeds in delivering its message tied up in cheery holiday wrapping and with a sprightly Annie - Issie Swickle, who sticks out her chin and belts biggies such as "Tomorrow," "Maybe," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" with abandon. It can be problematic to portray Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, a billionaire worried about his factories while millions of unemployed live in shanty towns, but Gilgamesh Taggett earns our good will as he falls under Annie's spell. And of course, there's Sandy the dog, which is almost unfair. You could just kvell from the cuteness.

Directed by Mr. Charnin, this energetic "Annie" doesn't skimp on unpalatable realities yet it leaves you uplifted and humming more songs than you realized you knew.

It's a good thing, too, because the Depression has rarely seemed so depressing as it often does in this evocative production. Designed by Tony winner Beowulf Boritt, the orphanage set is so shabby that even someone as optimistic as Annie is desperate to escape. In contrast to the Warbucks' mansion, it's at best just what the cruel and boozy Miss Hannigan, who runs the place, deserves. …

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