Written by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by D. Michael Dobbin
Choreographed by Kerry Gage
Musical direction by Andres Petrasiunas
Performed by Sarah Dedyna, Kaitlyn Parr-Cowan, Thom Allison, Sara Topham, Karen Skidmore, et al.
Grand Theatre, London
November 22 to December 24, 2005
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

You gotta love those orphans

The musical Annie, like Oliver and Anne of Green Gables, is a great show about an orphan finding a family. While the Grand Theatre’s production of Annie is practically flawless, I left wondering why I don’t love it as much as I love Oliver and Anne of Green Gables.

And then it struck me – Annie is based on a comic strip, for heaven’s sake. Oliver is based on a classic Dickens novel, and Anne of Green Gables is based on L.M. Montgomery’s great Canadian story. The plot in Annie pales by comparison and is contrived, but given its comic strip background, we’ll have to be forgiving.

Having said that, I still recommend that you take the kids and enjoy this Christmas favourite. Director D. Michael Dobbin has made it fun, but he also showed us the gritty side of the Dirty Thirties. We’re reminded that life was not pleasant in an orphanage during The Great Depression. It can be a bit of a history lesson for the family, as well as entertaining.

Dobbin also did well to prevent the show from being too schmaltzy. Just when I was afraid it was going over the top, he seemed to rein it in, not an easy feat when dealing with some corny scriptwriting.

Of course, the young orphans are delightful, led by Annie, played on opening night by Sarah Dedyna, and on alternate performances by Kaitlyn Parr-Cowan. Several of the young orphans have been cast twice to ease up on the demands of the show. Thom Allison as Daddy Warbucks displays his velvet singing voice. He’s just completed the summer at Stratford Festival in Into The Woods and Hello, Dolly. Sara Topham who played Rosalind so well in Stratford’s As you Like It, has a charming swoon as Grace.

The crowd pleaser is Karen Skidmore as Miss Hannigan, the drunken mistress of the orphanage, so evil that she rips heads off dolls and smacks around the little girls. Miss Hannigan, her brother Rooster (Kevin Power) and his girlfriend, Lily (Tracy Dawson) are lively in their rendition of Easy Street.

The addition of Canadian content is cute – Rooster and Lily announce that they are just back from “Saskatchewan, eh?”

Choreographer Kerry Gage deserves credit for all the dance numbers, especially in making full use of Skidmore’s comedic talents in both Easy Street and Little Girls. Gage also makes clever use of props, such as the orphans’ beds, buckets and scrub brushes.

Annie continues at the Grand Theatre in London until December 24. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.


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