Leapin' lizards, it's 'Annie'!


There's a lot to like about the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's current production of "Annie," even if one can imagine improvements here and there.

One definite asset is Ashley Adkins who, bet your bottom dollar, does very well in the title role.

Ashley, to her enduring credit, is not from the "scream it out and look cute" school of Annies. There's nothing the least bit strident about her voice. So, for a change, we get lyrical, rather sweet accounts of "Maybe," "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" and the inevitable "Tomorrow." How nice to hear them all minus the juvenile belting.

Ashley is thoroughly professional on stage, giving us a flesh-and-blood Annie who establishes a genuinely touching relationship with Oliver Warbucks, the Depression-era industrialist whose heart is captured by the young waif.

Kevin Wheatley might be going a bit too far in making the billionaire a "dese, dem and dose" kind of guy (whatever he is, Daddy Warbucks is no street mutt), but he conveys a commanding presence on stage, sings very well and creates some touching chemistry with his young co-star.

But the showstopper, as she must be, is CeCe Newbrough. She is simply hilarious as Miss Hannigan, the abusive lush who runs Annie's orphanage when she isn't too busy running her young charges into the ground.

Ms. Newbrough's performance is a classic. Her face is marvelously expressive, from her cross-eyed looks of horror to her pathetic attempts to charm her social and moral betters.

Her venomous song "Little Girls" is cleverly done. The "Easy Street" trio she sings with her crooked brother, Rooster, and his bimbo fiancee is the highlight of the show. Kudos to Ray Fulton and Bridget Eser-Smith in those very sleazy roles.

Other good performances come from Thom Walker as radio host Bert Healy and Jack Gilbert as an understated but sincere FDR.

The six orphans will satisfy your cuteness cravings for a time, though, frankly, I thought they were a little down when I saw them last Friday night.

Some improvements are in order. There wasn't much sparkle to Pamela Phillips' portrayal of Grace Farrell, Warbucks' Gal Friday.

The adult chorus sounded amateurish in the extreme, with people missing not only notes but entire octaves.

Important moments slipped away as well. There should be a little magic in the air when Annie and Warbucks swap their first "I love yous." There wasn't.

More sadness could register as the industrialist realizes he's going to lose Annie.

And how is an audience supposed to "ooh and aah" a little when Annie and Warbucks dance together if the waltz is so ludicrously awkward?

"A is for Annie" the Broadway posters used to say. On balance, though, I'd say these folks come out with more like a B-plus.

"Annie" plays at the Summer Garden Theatre at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 2. For ticket information, call 268-0809.

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