Annie, the musical that seems to be as spunky and indefatigable as its orphaned star, bounced into Bass Hall for an eight-performance run Tuesday. It is the show that just never goes away, and some people consider that to be a good thing.
This national touring production, presented here by Performing Arts Fort Worth, is an exceedingly handsome show, boasting gorgeous sets (by Beowulf Boritt) and costumes (by Suzy Benzinger). It sounds great, thanks to a strong pit orchestra, conducted by music director Keith Levenson.
The performers do not all measure up to some of the other productions we have seen over the years (this show debuted on Broadway in 1977), but they get the job done well enough.
Annie is, of course, based on the ancient comic strip about a red-headed orphan and her well-heeled ward, Daddy Warbucks, a greedy industrialist with a heart of gold. Or a heart that wants more gold. That is never really clear.
This musical, with music by Charles Strouse, book by Thomas Meehan and lyrics by this production’s director, Martin Charnin, is set in the Depression era and tells the story of how Annie (understudy Amanda Swickle in for an ailing Tori Bates at Tuesday’s performance) and Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett) get together.
Annie is selected from the orphanage she calls home to spend the Christmas holidays in Warbucks’ abode, a palace that is far removed from the squalor of the orphanage, where even sitting president FDR (Jeffrey B. Duncan) might show up for a visit. Warbucks is immediately charmed by Annie and takes up the cause of finding the parents who left her at the foundling home years before.
Because of his wealth and connections, he is able to go to such extremes as putting famed G-Man Eliot Ness on the job. But, when Warbucks offers a large reward for finding the parents, the orphanage matron, Miss Hannigan (Erin Fish), and her slippery brother, Rooster (Michael Santora), concoct a scheme to cash in.
The standout in this production is Taggett, who brings a smooth, rich voice and appropriately imposing, bald presence to his portrayal. Also strong are the acting jobs turned in by Fish and Santora as the Hannigans. They both manage to capture the sleaziness of their characters without letting their negative personalities get in the way of the humor.
There are several other minor contributions, such as a trio of singing sisters in a radio show segment (Katie Davis, Caroline Lellouche and Mia Fitzgibbon), that enhance the overall product.
Charnin’s direction is straightforward but, since he is one of the show’s creators, it is all correct and well-ordered. There is not a lot of dance in this show, but what movement it has is nicely policed by choreographer Liza Gennaro.
Finally, this production has an excellent Sandy, Annie’s canine companion. He never misses a mark or a cue, and he looks more like his comic-strip counterpart than any of the many other Sandys I have seen.
Its few shortcomings are not deal-breakers. There are some roles that patrons who have seen this show frequently may find lacking in some ways — a voice here, an acting job there. Its worst sin is that some things come off as a little pat and generic.
But if you have not seen this show before, this production will give you a solid introduction.