“Annie” is almost the definition of a crowd-pleasing musical, with fun and familiar songs, and upbeat message and lots of adorable characters.
But it’s a difficult one to pull off, mostly because of those adorable characters. They’re children, some of them very young children, and they have to be able to sing, dance and act, and carry a lot of the weight of the show.
The new Manatee Players production of the venerable musical, which turns 40 this year, succeeds precisely because of the children in the cast. They’re as cute as can be, and they have the charisma and the stage chops to make sing you along with the songs (in your head, preferably, not out loud) and tug at your heartstrings.
Some of the other elements of the show — ones involving nothing but grown-ups — aren’t as strong, though.
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Because of the demands on the young performers, the Manatee Players production has two completely different casts of children, including two Annies, that alternate performances through the run of the show. (The adult roles are filled by the same actors each night.) Assuming the two casts are essentially equal, the work by director Cheryl Carty, music director Michelle Neal and choreographer Cynthia Ashford is especially impressive.
The “green cast,” which is the one that this review in based on, is headed by Alanna Rife in the title role. She’s terrific, although she looks a little older than some of the Annies you may have seen in other productions. The rest of the kids in that cast — Sienna McHugh, Autumn Ruscoe, Olivia Mueller, Roxy Gevis, Vivianna Coppa, Anika Pisz, Angelina Puccia and Isabella DeStories — all do much better work than you’d have any reason to expect from actors of that age. Individually as an ensemble, they’re stronger than some casts in professional productions.
Some of the design work is exceptional too, especially Georgina Wilmott’s costumes, which range from the downtrodden orphans’ rags to the dowdy dresses of Miss Hannigan to the elegant formal wear of Daddy Warbucks. Caleb Carrier’s set for Daddy Warbucks’ home is absolutely gorgeous, through some of the other sets seem half-hearted. (That’s likely because of budget, not because of Carrier’s skills.)
Carty said she wanted to create a somewhat darker version of “Annie,” and that’s most obvious in the performance by Andrea Keddell as Miss Hannigan. Keddell’s performance is forceful but her Hannigan is meaner and less funny than some others, and as a result the show is sometimes not very enjoyable when she’s on stage.
The music is recorded, so it’s fuller-sounding than the music of a lot of Manatee Players productions that feature small orchestras. But some of the adult performers sing off-key a little more than you might find acceptable.
Details: Through Dec. 17, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $27-$37. 941-748-5875 , manateeperformingartscenter.com.