The current touring production of “Annie” is a feelgood musical bursting with Americana in the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps and put on a happy face” tradition. It ran on Broadway from 1977 to 1983 and won seven Tony Awards. Three were for the music, lyrics and book featured in the national touring show now at Belk Theater, directed by lyricist Martin Charnin. (A side note: Company manager Steve Lisciani grew up in South Charlotte and attended Providence High School.)
“Annie” is so optimistically cute it dares critics to wield their pens as swords; only a crank will lacerate a play that stars children and features a live dog. In brief, Annie was given up at birth to the New York Municipal Girl’s Orphanage with half a locket and a note that promises her parents will return to claim her.
Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews) heads the orphanage, with a demeanor that fluctuates from villainous toward the girls to coquettish in the presence of men. Her voice is marvelous, and her mood swings are irrationally enjoyable.
Oliver Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett) is a billionaire who makes a generous gesture of bringing an orphan into his home for two weeks over Christmas. This is arranged by his secretary, the lovely and kind Grace Farrell (Ashley Edler).
If you dig a little, you can see how this Depression-era piece mirrors our country today. The streets outside Charlotte’s Urban Ministry are our Hooverville. Miss Hannigan’s variety of child abuse hasn’t been abolished. The cops who harass Annie are front page news now.
But “Annie” doesn’t pause long enough for the dark moments to be dark. The silver linings are endemic, from the orphans who sing while they are forced to clean floors at 4 a.m. to the appallingly rich Daddy Warbucks, who loses his heart to an 11-year-old girl.
“Annie” falls into a strange time vortex. The audience is full of elementary school kids, some so young that on opening night, a crying baby had to be whisked away. Yet the humor is largely dependent on knowledge of American history that isn’t provided to children until high school. A radio studio scene is reminiscent of the Grand Ole Opry. Franklin Delano Roosevelt plays a significant role, as does the Mona Lisa, and we get references to Elliot Ness and Al Capone.
Issie Swickle is a credible Annie, both sassy and sweet. Her no-frills voice is strong, rich and resonant. Lilly Mae Stewart’s Molly comes close to stealing the orphanage scenes. The sub-villains, Rooster (Garrett Deagon) and Lily St. Regis (Lucy Werner), are as annoying as they are supposed to be in their short scenes.
The choreography is not notable, but Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design is stunning. Graphically accurate backdrops depict Lower Manhattan brownstones and the Brooklyn Bridge. The song “N.Y.C.” is accompanied by a dazzling vista of Central Park, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a Gothic cathedral I wish I could identify.
A backdrop of an enormous Presidential Seal defines FDR’s Oval Office. Oh, that we lived in Annie’s world, where a charming child could induce the President and his advisers to break into a heartfelt reprise of “Tomorrow.” As Hemingway wrote about a different would-be romance in “The Sun Also Rises,” “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
The national tour of the 1977 musical about an orphaned girl adopted by a rich guy comes to Charlotte.
WHEN: Through July 19 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes.
DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.