Annie exudes optimism as she sings in a scene from the musical “Annie” being produced by Community Little Theatre. The show continues this coming weekend. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“Little Orphant Annie ’s come to our house to stay,

An’ wash the cups and saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,

An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,

An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;

An’ all us other children, when the supper things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun

A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ’at Annie tells about,

An’ the Gobble-uns ’at gits you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!”

 — Excerpt from the poem “Little Orphant Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley

From Riley’s 1885 poem, to the Sunday Funnies — where the trials and tribulations of a little red-haired orphaned waif with no eyeballs and her stray dog Sandy were syndicated and serialized — here comes a musical that immortalizes the power of youthful optimism.

Set in the period of America’s darkest domestic crisis, the Depression, a little girl melts the heart of a stone-cold capitalist, champions the most vulnerable members of society and brings bipartisan political cooperation to prove attempted fraud. And, oh yes, inspires the New Deal. Whew!

The Community Little Theatre, in its terrific production of the musical “Annie,” brings us a rousing, thought-provoking play that juxtaposes the historic realities of that terrible period with the “can-do” spirit needed to survive it. With a performance that rips its bright, colorful and tragi-comic story line directly from the pages of the Sunday papers, the ever-hopeful Annie, convinced that her parents will return for her, searches for an escape from the pitiful plight of the orphanage.

The infectious smile, boundless energy and optimism of little Annie (radiantly and powerfully played by Tessa Hayashida) is dazzling as she comforts the other orphan girls and enlists their aid in a clever breakout so she might locate her parents. Along the city streets in her search, she finds a stray dog, Sandy (played by Lucky, trained by Christy Gardner). It has long been said in “show biz”: Never take the stage following a kid or an animal act. The scenes featuring Annie and Sandy together will absolutely tug at your heartstrings, to prove the truth of that axiom.

As she wanders among suffering denizens on the streets of New York City, like a Pollyanna, Sandy always finds a silver lining.

“Our pockets are empty,” they exclaim.

“At least you have pockets,” she declares.

“Our hands are cold,” they complain.

She reminds them, “At least you have pockets to put your hands in.”

But then, alas, she is apprehended and returned to the clutches of Ms. Hannigan at the orphanage.

Annie’s fortuitous introduction to Oliver Warbucks (whose authoritative presence is well played by Sean Wallace) is arranged by his loyal take-charge private secretary, Grace Farrell (Emily Flynn, in an elegant portrayal bridging professional confidante and emergent romantic interest). She is spot-on as the link that connects the little girl with the high-powered business mogul.

Following Warbucks’ directive to find and bring home an orphan for Christmas, she liberates Annie from the orphanage when she immediately recognizes in her an attitude worth cultivating.

Warbucks, it is revealed, was himself orphaned at a young age and expects Grace to bring back a boy. “Orphans are BOYS,” he expounds upon meeting Annie. But Annie’s luminous presence lures him away from his ever-demanding business responsibilities, and without realizing it the trio begin to form a non-traditional family.

Great music is provided by a talented ensemble orchestra (unseen, but omnipresent) as Annie and Sandy charm their way into the hearts of everyone in the very large cast, including President Franklin Roosevelt (warmly played by Roger Philippon), who says of Annie, “You’re the kind of person a president should have around him.”

Everyone is enamored, that is, except for Ms. Hannigan, the bitter, hard-drinking, whistle-blowing tyrant of the orphanage (wickedly delivered by Renee Mahon Davis). Along with her scheming, corrupt brother, Rooster (imbued with callous coarseness by Christopher Dostie),  and his floozy girlfriend, Lilly St. Regis (hammed up hilariously by Rachel Campoli), they embody the “Globble-uns ‘at git ya – ef ya don’t watch out.” Their dastardly scheme to defraud Warbucks of a large sum of money is made more despicable by the attendant plan to dispatch Annie, as well.

Terrific music and spirited choreography bring Annie’s story to life.

“Tomorrow,” the show’s recurrent song, persistently weaves the thread of Annie’s cheerful conviction that better days are ahead. You may find yourself humming it for days after the show.

“It’s a Hard Knock Life” is filled with energy and sass featuring great choreography and singing by Annie and the orphans (played by Julia Groover, Ansley Kate Watson, Anna Courtemanche, Maria Groover, Shaylyn Brown and Isla Shovilin).

Put a star next to several other performances along the way. “Easy Street” will have you moving to the beat as Ms. Hannigan, Rooster and Lilly shimmy with unabashed enthusiasm as they plot their crooked scheme to achieve unmerited wealth.

Another standout scene is a parody of a live radio program of the day, at which Annie makes her radio singing debut and Oliver Warbucks appeals to the audience in hopes of finding Annie’s parents, offering a staggering $50,000 reward for the couple who can prove they are Annie’s parents. Interspersed in the radio proceedings are a singing commercial for toothpaste, a ventriloquist act (on the radio?) and “radio’s only masked announcer.”

The laughter barely subsides when the orphans, after listening to Annie over the airwaves, reprise the radio show, once again spotlighting the great talent abiding in the members of this youthful group.

The set is very effective in its sparseness, reflecting the bleak, gray period. While several scenes rotate through the play (the orphanage, the street, the Warbucks mansion and the president’s cabinet room), each is sparingly portrayed. Even the Warbucks’ mansion is shown as cold and stark. It is empty save a grand staircase at the back and a business desk at the front of the stage. Instead Warbucks’ riches are shown in the crisp, starched presence of an immense loyal and happy household staff, all obviously overjoyed to have gainful employment. Ms. Farrell is clearly the liaison holding things together.

The multi-talented ensemble cast of Beth LaBrie, Lorraine Giasson, Carly Georgen, Nicole Frydrych, Susan Caron, Maggie Machaiek and Jane Mitchell, Gregory Charette, Jim McKinley, Dan Burgess, Dan Crawford, Ken Mansur, John Guy and David Handley are remarkable. Handling multiple roles, they deftly provide set changes as they dance and sing their way through the fast-paced caravan of scenes and circumstances.

After the Hannigans’ scheme is thwarted (by Eliot Ness and the FBI, no less), a climactic scene brings everyone together including Sandy. Annie is officially adopted by “Daddy” Warbucks. A union of Oliver and Grace seems imminent as a gala Christmas celebration rings the curtain down with the entire cast reminding us, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya’ tomorrow, you’re always a day away.”

This evening of good-natured, Sunday comics shenanigans and surprises is both great escapist fare for all and a touching reminder that goodness ultimately defeats meanness and that children deserve our attention; often they are our truth and always are our future.

The theater will present “Annie” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24, 25 and 26, and 2 p.m. Oct. 20 and 27.


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