I love the inherent charm and romanticism in Theatre Under the Stars. Something about watching live musical-theatre performers under an open sky on a cool summer night brings back the notion of a simpler time. Where the flights of fantasy we see on stage no longer seem so implausible.
Going back to reality however, begs the question whether simpler times ever actually existed, or if they’re merely childhood memories artfully framed by nostalgic wishing. The good old days surely don’t apply to the years in the 30s during the Great Depression.
It’s in that unlikely setting that TUTS first feel-good musical of the season takes place. The family classic Annie opens with a group of orphans gathered around the radio, listening to the opening overtures of Charles Strouse’s score.
With lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, Annie has been a family favourite for the last 32 years and unfortunately its age is showing. The story is peppered with cultural references from the 30s as remembered from the 70s. Mentions of Jack Dempsey or Don Budge don’t exactly hit home with a contemporary crowd. It also doesn’t help that the show’s most memorable songs are all in the first act.
Luckily, the TUTS cast has talent enough to gloss over the show’s weaknesses. Nine-year-old Michelle Creber plays the titular orphan as well any seasoned veteran. Actual seasoned veteran David Adams, who plays Oliver Warbucks, has some great chemistry with Creber. His Warbucks is somewhat human compared to how others have played the role and his affection for his young ward is therefore more believable.
The orphan chorus, as played by Sophie Leroux, Loritta Lin, Eve O’Dea, Christina Peluso, Roan Shankaruk, Nicol Spinola, Olivia Steele-Falconer, Sophie Visscher-Lubinizki and Allison Wall, is charming and brimming with talent. Their spunky version of “Hard Knock Life” gets the show off and running on a high note.
I never envy the job of the actor who is cast as Miss Hannigan. Carol Burnett’s cinematic turn as the boozy orphanage director is a hard act for anyone to follow. Theoretically, Miss Hannigan has some of the best one-liners in the show, and Colleen Winton plays them up for all they’re worth. But they didn’t get much response from the audience; which says more about the audience and the show itself than it does about Winton’s performance. Many of the lines just aren’t as funny when you know they’re coming.
Todd Talbot and Carolyn Bergstrand as Rooster Hannigan and Lily St-Regis liven up the show with their brand of comedic villainy. Winton, Talbot and Bergstrand are smooth as butter with “Easy Street.”
Not everything in Annie hits the mark. Dana Luccock’s portrayal of Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell is flat and somewhat one-noted. There were also a few problems with the sound, but nothing that can’t be ironed out.
Kudos to Francesca Albertazzi for her set design. It is both pretty and practical and works well within the limitations of the Malkin Bowl. Former Playhouse Artistic Director Glynis Leyshon makes her TUTS directing debut and has crafted a solid show.
Though the musical itself may be getting a bit tired, it’s a great choice for the family-friendly TUTS. Tickets are still available through Tickets Tonight. Annie plays every other night at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park at 8 pm until August 21st.