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'Annie' still family-friendly fun

On Theater

June 30, 2010|Tom Titus

Every generation or so, a show comes along that captivates the kids while thoroughly entertaining the grownups in the audience. Musicals like "The Wizard of Oz" or "The Sound of Music" are prime examples.

Fitting comfortably into this category is "Annie," which first hit Broadway in 1977 and rang up a record number of performances (2,377) before closing in 1983. It's due to return to the Great White Way in 2012.

In the meantime, "Annie" is dreaming about "Tomorrow" at the Huntington Beach Playhouse, where director Stephen Reifenstein has assembled an impressive — in both quality and quantity — company to turn back the clock to the early 1930s (you think we've got it bad now?).

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With Erik Przytulski guiding the company musically and Amanda Murphy supplying some creative choreography, especially with the orphans, this "Annie" is a lovable, laugh-inducing production, no matter how familiar its audience may be with the material. A show of hands at Friday's opening revealed several people who'd never seen the show before.

It all started with Harold Gray's comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" back in the 1930s (which only recently was discontinued) and centers on the feisty, red-haired 11-year-old girl (Kristen Powell in this production) plucked from an orphanage to spend the Christmas holidays with zillionaire Oliver Warbucks (Geoffrey Varga), who's somehow managed to thrive in the midst of the Depression.

For villainous comic relief, we have the orphanage warden, Miss Hannigan (Karen Merrill), whom everyone loves to hate, along with her con man brother Rooster (Jonathan Gopen) and his sultry sweetie Lily St. Regis ("like the hotel"), who's played by Bethany Hamrick.

Yet with all these attention grabbers, there's still plenty of room for scenic larceny, and Huntington Beach has an accomplished pair of felons in the forms of Nona Watson as Warbucks' super-nice secretary Grace and Olivia Aniceto, all six years of her, as the chirpy orphan Molly. Watson's operatically trained pipes handily steal the singing scenes, while Aniceto (double-cast, as are all the supporting orphans) neatly swipes the opening sequence with her cutesy bravado.

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