There was no shortage of cute Thursday at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

It was preview night for “Annie,” the feel-good musical about a Depression-era orphan who hopes to find her parents and ends up with a brand-new life. The show requires a gaggle of little girls who play Annie’s buddies at the orphanage, and that corps always overflows with adorability.

The cute didn’t end there. Several pretty young ladies dressed in polka dots and denim were seated behind me, and they were clearly delighted to be there. A couple of them couldn’t resist singing along to “Tomorrow,” Annie’s signature song, and they chattered throughout the show (despite the best efforts of their grown-ups).

When adults talk at productions, I find it irritating. But when it’s excited and enthusiastic kids, perhaps having their first theater experience, I find it endearing.

Their joy made my day.

Those girls, I think, explain the enduring popularity of “Annie,” a staple at community theaters everywhere. The tunes and the script, by Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, are extremely accessible to kids, sticking with them long after they return home. And the show has the heart and humor to satisfy adults, as well.

Director Kimberly Faith Hickman’s production has a lot going for it: more than 35 cast members, numerous set changes and an orchestra that’s way smaller than it sounds.

The actors playing the lead adult roles are wonderful, both as actors and singers: Jay Srygley is a gruff but lovable Daddy Warbucks, Angela Jenson Frey is his sweet assistant and Allison Wissman is a stitch as mean Miss Hannigan (younger and prettier than the usual Hannigans, with a killer voice).

Christopher Violett and Cathy Hirsch as swindlers Rooster and Lily earned belly laughs with their antics.

Eighth-grader Stella Clark-Kaczmarek is a lovable and no-nonsense Annie. She portrays the orphan as a strong and confident young woman who’s not afraid to pursue her dreams, a take that’s way more understated than the excitable “Leaping Lizards!” Annies you see in many productions (and in the comic strip on which the musical is based).

Stella has a nice voice and a way with a song, especially the poignant “Maybe.”

And tiny, funny and fearless Brinlee Roeder will steal your heart as the orphan Molly.

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Conductor Jim Boggess gets a lot of great sound out of nine instrumentalists, and scenic and lighting director Jim Othuse gets a lot of New York atmosphere out of colorful backdrops, some street carts and furniture and evocative lights.

For the most part, I loved Lindsay Pape’s costume choices, especially Grace’s 1930s-style dresses and hats. I wasn’t a huge fan of some hairstyles — Grace’s ’do looked unflatteringly lacquered to her head. And I have to ask: Why did Annie have red pigtails instead of bushy curls? I can’t think of a good reason to change her iconic appearance.

Ensemble singing was fine, but dances and other movement seemed tentative and even a little self-conscious, like the chorus was having to count and remember steps. It made the whole thing seem sluggish and less than polished.

I’m chalking that up to preview-night jitters that will disappear as ensemble members get more relaxed.

In program notes, Hickman says “Annie” made her a firm believer in the power of musical theater when she first saw it as a 3-year-old. As an adult, she says, she realized that “Annie” introduced her to the concepts of sisterhood and loyalty and instilled family values.

She says she hopes it resonates with Playhouse audiences in a similar way.

The magic of theater appeared to be working on those beautiful kids behind me on Thursday night. I’d love to check in with them in 20 years.

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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