Sunday, December 16, 2012

Annie, Beck Center

Among all the “fingernails-on-a-chalkboard,” cringe-inducing songs of all time, certainly “Tomorrow” ranks right up there. But that may be just because it’s so damn memorable.

Far from a slam, the status of the song that honors the day that will never come may actually may be a compliment to Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin who wrote the music and lyrics for Annie.

This is a show that can win you over, with the right performances and production, and Beck Center hits many of the right notes even if there are a couple less than stellar elements.

This is a major endeavor for Beck, and a sure-fire lock for many sold-out houses due to the hordes of pre-teen girls and their families who will troop in. And they’re being treated to some admission price-worthy theater.

As Annie, the embodiment of the cartoon orphan who leads FDR out of the Depression, Anna Barrett does a fine job. She displays solid stage presence and a singing voice that, while not exactly stripping the paint of the walls (a la Broadway’s original, Andrea McArdle), is certainly up to the task.

She is backed up by The Orphans, the other little girls who animate their hand-me-down rags with plenty of chutzpah and capable singing on “Hard Knock Life.”

Daddy Warbucks is played by Gilgamesh Taggett with some much appreciated underplaying, throwing away lines that become even funnier as a result. And his strong vocals add to the luster of the proceedings.

A standout in a smaller role is Matthew Ryan Thompson as the con artist Rooster. Moving with sinuous intent as he crafts a greasy, unctuous character with the moral depth of a fruit fly, Thompson almost singlehandedly makes “Easy Street” the showstopper it should be.

Unfortunately, his task is not aided greatly by a rather stiff Molly Huey as his henchwoman Lily. And as for Miss Hannigan, the usually reliable Lenne Snively has wonderfully nasty moments but doesn’t quite knit together a whole character that feels as strong as some of the others.

And it must be said that Leslie Feagan has just the right jut of chin to play FDR, along with the clenched Hyde Park accent.

Director Scott Spence and choreographer Martin Cespedes use the voluminous Beck main stage to excellent effect as they maneuver their battalion of actors through Trad A Burns’ many sets and scene changes.  

This Annie is a worth successor to Beck other recent holiday blockbusters, and is sure to make the little girls you know sing “Tomorrow” for many more tomorrows to come. Hey, relax, it’s why God invented aspirin.

Through January 6 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-521-2540

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