It’s hard to go wrong when cute kids are involved.
That’s evident in “Annie,” this summer’s Ralston Community Theatre musical. It features a passel of small and adorable performers who make it easy to overlook any flaws.
When the musical starts, the little girls in the orphanage are the first actors you see. Annie sings about her yearning for a family, then all the kids break into one of the show’s most popular songs, “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”
The kids sang and danced together well, but some of their spoken lines were lost — perhaps because of inadequate mics, perhaps because of larger issues. That probably was disappointing for families of kids who may have been in their first show.
The crowd, however, couldn’t have cared less. The cute kids were positively captivating.
There was lots to like about the show, even with the intermittent sound issues. It’s been a while since I’ve seen “Annie,” and I forgot how charming — and funny — it can be. It also features a live dog, always a hit.
It was in good hands with director Todd Uhrmacher, especially humor-wise.
Sarah Ebke as Miss Hannigan, the evil, scheming and manic orphanage matron, is a natural comedian. With Jon Flowers as her brother Rooster and Megan Kelly as his floozy girlfriend Lily, she tries to stir up lots of trouble. All three have a gift for physical comedy.
And little Brynn Fitzgerald, who appeared to be no older than 7 or 8, captured hearts as Molly, a silly, chatty orphan.
Tim Anderson was commanding as Daddy Warbucks, who loves Annie like a father after his secretary Grace (Anna Perilo) invites her to stay at the Warbucks mansion. Anderson’s daughter Sophie plays Annie, and their family ties were evident in their natural performances, easy rapport and sincere sentiment.
Kelly, Tim Anderson and Perilo also do some excellent vocal work. And the ensemble — assembled and directed by music director Chris Ebke and choreographer Debbie Massey-Schneweis — was wonderful. Large group numbers were really entertaining, especially “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover,” which was inexplicably omitted from some versions of “Annie” on film and TV.
The musical is based on characters from Harold Gray’s historic comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” which was launched in 1924 and syndicated for 86 years. It once appeared in hundreds of newspapers, but it was in only 20 publications when it was canceled in 2010.
In the strip, Annie was a 10-year-old orphan with blank white circles as eyes. She escaped from the orphanage, was taken in by Warbucks and got caught up in many adventures, sometimes involving espionage and even supernatural events.
The musical focuses on Annie’s quest to find the parents who left her at the orphanage, but steers clear of the other stuff. Warbucks gets President Franklin D. Roosevelt (David Ebke) involved, arranges for Annie’s story to be on a national radio show and offers a reward, which brings grifters such as Miss Hannigan and her pals out of the woodwork.
The story is set in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. You don’t need to know the history of that time to enjoy it, but I found myself wishing there were some program notes with background about that time.
Lots of families attended the opening-night performance, and a little history may have enhanced the experience both for kids and young parents who know little about the era. Several references in the play were lost on all but older audience members and those who paid attention in history class.
The Ralston Community Theatre does only one show a year, and it has a knack for choosing classics that haven’t been done in the area for a while.
You’ll enjoy getting to know “Annie” all over again.