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‘Annie’ Delights at Baton Rouge Theatre

By Tara Bennett

It’s funny how some things never grow old. While a rendition of “Tomorrow” won’t stop the presses, it still provokes heart melting awes, especially if it is sung by a plucky orphan girl. Perhaps this is why Theatre Baton Rouge is seeing great success with their production of “Annie,” which has been extended an additional week due to high ticket sales.

There are plenty of good reasons for the musical’s success. “Annie” is considered to be a timeless classic, having won the Tony Awards for Best Musical, and was made into several film adaptations. It has never really been out of circulation. People are so in love with “Annie” that the musical has been running for over 30 years, and will someday beat the 80 year run of the original comic “Little Orphan Annie.”

The story takes place in the 1930’s with the country in a deep financial depression. While the politics and references of the Great Depression may go over the heads of the younger audience members, they will still get a sense of hope, for “Annie” is a story of wish fulfillment and childhood optimism. Annie lives in a Dickensian orphanage under the cruel rule of Miss Hannigan, a disillusioned villainess who hates children and has a fondness for drink. Annie is an eternal optimist, convinced that the parents who abandoned her years ago will turn up. Meanwhile, the world’s richest man, Oliver Warbucks, has decided to have his secretary find an orphan who will spend the Christmas holiday in his 5th Avenue mansion. At the same time, Miss Hannigan’s no-good brother Rooster and his companion Lily show up and all three are soon dreaming of “Easy Street.”

In order for “Annie” to really shine, you need a strong ensemble, and Director Jenny Ballard has mounted a memorable production with an accomplished group of characters. Molly Beth Blanchard is sweet and sincere as Annie, and is heart-warming when waltzing with Daddy Warbucks. Chip Davis plays a lovable billionaire who gets major props for going all the way for his character by shaving his head completely bald. TBR newcomer Jennifer C. Gomez is a kind-hearted Grace who, if Annie were permitted to have a mother, would fit the bill.

The rest of the cast gives equally multi-faceted performances. Dana Lux goes full monster as a delightfully over-the-top Miss Hannigan while Jules Dellinger’s Rooster and Lauren Regner’s Lily are suitably loathsome. The delightfully balanced ensemble delivers vivid character work and warm comedy in “Hooverville,” as the swanky mansion staff swirling around the delighted Annie during “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” and creating the comic radio studio bustle of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” Khayenne, who steals the show playing Annie’s dog Sandy, is fetchingly obedient. And the orphans — Katherine Andreeff, Grace Scoggins, Trystan Seeling, Hannah Bourgeois, Sadie Fontenot, Ella Dupre, Kolby Griffin, Anna Deshotels and Abigail Kennedy — are enthusiastic and spontaneous, a reminder that dreaming about tomorrow doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy today.

Among the adults in the audience, it’s a safe gamble that nearly everyone knows the story and music, either from the original 1977 production, its revival in 1997, or its film version, released in 1982. We have our expectation of how Annie will look and how Miss Hannigan will talk. The greatest accomplishment for Ballard is that she gets so much personality and nuance from each actor that, in less talented hands, might be reduced to caricature. Ultimately, what audiences love about Annie’s story is that having wealth, while undeniably fabulous, pales next to having a family, and that message shines as Blanchard and Davis waltz across the stage.

“Annie” is scheduled to run through June 29. For ticket information call 225-924-6496.

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