"Annie," the 1977 musical that brought new life to the comic-strip orphan, was off to a resounding start at its opening Friday with a lively overture featuring Chesapeake Music Hall music director-pianist Anita O'Connor accompanied by trumpets, trombones, violins, tuba and drums.
A team effort of Broadway's Thomas Meaghan, lyricist-director Martin Charnin and composer Charles Strouse, the show might well be O'Connor's best work at the Music Hall to date.
A New York City orphanage early in Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration is the setting for "Annie," the tale of a spunky optimist who shares "a hard-knock life" with her fellow orphans. After a brief escape to a bleak Hooverville, Annie is returned to the Municipal Orphanage and mean Matron Agatha Hannigan, where she is soon discovered by billionaire Oliver Warbucks' secretary Grace Farrell (Andrea Elward), in search of an orphan to share Christmas with Warbucks at his mansion.
As Annie, delightfully unassuming 9-year-old Julia Melton delivers masses of dialogue, and has a strong rapport with her fellow orphans and with seasoned actors Susan Bell (Agatha Hannigan) and David B. Reynolds (Oliver Warbucks).
On opening night, Julia had some difficulties projecting her voice, and her "Maybe," "It's a Hard-Knock Life" and "Tomorrow" were a bit tentative.
Sandy, the dog, grabbed the spotlight as Julia sang "Tomorrow" while struggling to keep Sandy out of her pocket, which held his treats.
Bell clearly relishes playing Matron Agatha Hannigan. Bell made "Easy Street" a lively place to be, along with her shady companions, Shannon Benil as Lily and Jeff Davis as Rooster.
As Warbucks, David B. Reynolds is convincing as the pragmatic tycoon with a soft spot for Annie, and he does justice to the songs "NYC," an ode to New York, and "I Don't Need Anything But You," a tender ode to Annie.
"Annie" continues at Chesapeake Music Hall on weekends and alternate Wednesdays through June 25. Reservations: 410-626-7515or 800-406-0306.