'Annie' is back to steal hearts for the holiday

Just as the Great Depression was no match for a little orphan named Annie in the 1930s, our current Great Recession does not stand a chance against a revival of the Broadway musical "Annie."

In any event, your own spirits will likely be lifted by the solid new production at Toby's Baltimore Dinner Theatre.

This family-friendly show has such an assertively upbeat message that it's easy to go along with its perpetual weather forecast that the sun will come out tomorrow. You can bet your bottom dollar that the song "Tomorrow" will tug at your heart regardless of whether you have weathered this show many times or are a very young theater-goer watching for the first time.

The score by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan are so skillfully crafted that any staging of "Annie" is likely to have you humming the tunes and smiling at the humanism.

Although it's a durable story, the casting in the title role is obviously crucial to its success. Some productions of "Annie" give her such flaming hair, perky outfits and extroverted behavior that she seems like a live-action cartoon you might be hesitant to adopt. The Toby's production fortunately tones down the hair a bit and likewise goes for a mood that's lively without being hyperactive.

All of the children's roles in this production are double-cast, ensuring that numerous local girls will have the opportunity to be yelled at by the vile orphanage director, Miss Hannigan.

Adalia Jimenez portrayed Annie at the reviewed performance; she alternates with Maya Brettell in the role. Jimenez looks a tad mature to be playing the 11-year-old Annie, but this young actress gives a spirited performance that makes the role her own.

She also seemed to be fighting a cold at the reviewed show. When she sang with a slightly raspy voice and even coughed a few times in the first act, it added verisimilitude to the scene in which a policeman cautions Annie to bundle up lest she catch a cold.

Like the character she is playing, Jimenez bravely sang on. Indeed, by the second act, she no longer seemed under the weather. This Annie is a winner.

In case you're wondering about Annie's faithful companion, her dog Sandy is played by a well-behaved Australian shepherd named Kona. By way of playbill bio, Kona is making her stage debut and is a Howard County Pets on Wheels volunteer.

Among the human actors, much of the show's energy is derived from Annie's cold relationship with Miss Hannigan and her warm relationship with Daddy Warbucks, the billionaire who takes her into his mansion for the Christmas holiday season.

As Miss Hannigan, Tina DeSimone is younger and prettier than some of the other actors who have assumed this sadistic role since the original Broadway production way back in 1977. It's enjoyable to watch DeSimone vamping her way through this part, because the script makes it clear that Miss Hannigan is as eager to romantically find a boyfriend as she is to financially exploit Daddy Warbucks.

As Daddy Warbucks, David Bosley-Reynolds is ideally cast as the rich guy who is one of the few people in America to still have all of his money in 1933. From his bald head to his crusty manner, Bosley-Reynolds is the very image of Daddy Warbucks; and his singing also has the gruff confidence one expects in this role.

Much of the emotional appeal of this production comes from Bosley-Reynolds making us sense how Daddy Warbucks is completely won over by that eternally cheerful orphan.

Others in the large cast making a nice impression include Heather Marie Beck as Daddy Warbucks' secretary, Grace Farrell. It's not a splashy role, but she performs it, er, gracefully. You understand why Daddy Warbucks eventually might be inclined to take a romantic interest in his taken-for-granted secretary.

Although director Shawn Kettering and his production colleagues persuasively convey the show's Depression-era setting, there are nagging lapses that would be easy to correct.

In terms of traffic management, there must be easier ways to get President Roosevelt's wheelchair around the office furniture. On another awkward note, the servants hanging Christmas garlands in Warbucks' mansion have a hit-or-miss approach to their decorating — and the actors playing them seem unsure whether to pause to redecorate or simply proceed with a musical number. Have Annie take charge of the house, and everything will be fine.

"Annie" runs through Jan. 8 at Toby's Baltimore Dinner Theatre, located in the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center, 5625 O'Donnell St., in Baltimore. Call 410-649-1660 or go to http://www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.

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