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Theater review: The magic of ‘Annie,’ a little girl on a big stage with a big voice

The production opened Saturday afternoon at the NorShor Theatre.

DNT review
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You have a simple choice this holiday season. You can watch the Playhouse live version of “Annie” on stage or you can watch the NBC live version on television.

For me this is a no-brainer. You see it on stage.

The production that opened Saturday afternoon at the NorShor is not, to put it mildly, my first “Annie.” But every time I see it on stage and Annie begins singing “Maybe,” it gets me.

Every. Single. Time.

It has never done that when I have watched the video versions. I contend this is because “Annie” works best when it is sung by a little girl on a big stage with a big voice filling a big auditorium. That’s the magic.

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Director Phillip Fazio has alternating casts of kids because they will be doing 5 shows in 4 1/2 days for a month. But also because the Playhouse’s Education Program has created an incredible talent pool of young actors in this town.

We watched the Red Cast, with Cadence Graber as Annie, aided and abetted by Gigi Calland (Molly), Evy Bradley (Duffy), Clare Boyle (Tessie), Katie Hanka (July), Gwen Evans (Pepper), and Violet Fletcher (Kate) as the other orphans. Besides “Maybe,” Graber was especially affective the first time she sings “Tomorrow” as a ballad, rather than as the anthem it becomes by show’s end.

My biggest complaint with “Annie” is always that the orphans only get one show-stopping number per act, with “Hard Knock Life” and their version of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” Amber Burns comes up with lots of cute choreography for the kids.

As Miss Hannigan, Christina Stroup soars belting out the big notes and also scores with the little bits too on “Little Girls.” The kids in the audience loved what she did behind the closed door and also her slithering.

The show offers an Oliver Warbucks like you have never seen before, because he is not bald. But the character needs to be bigger than life and Gabe Mayfield is certainly that. He also has a great sense of heart, putting emotional buttons on several reprises and delivering a “Something Was Missing” that was actually touching for once.

As a sign of the times, understudy Quinn Lorez had to step in as Grace Farrell and Jessie Olson stepped up for Lorez’s ensemble roles. Grace being Warbucks’ personal assistant nicely justified her having her notebook on stage.

Lorez has a big voice and a unique vibe. For the first time I had a real sense of Grace more as Annie’s future mother than Warbucks’ future wife. Nice touch.

Andy Frye and Dorian Brooke are slimy and reprehensible as Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, joining Stroup for the big “Easy Street” number. Justin Peck did a solid imitation of F.D.R. in that great F.D.R. wheelchair. As Sandy, Makena earned a big “Aww” when she ran on stage.

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Music director Kyle Picha’s 14-member orchestra plays 17 different instruments. When they start doubling the brass and adding a tuba too we are talking a serious musical upgrade. They sounded great.

Almost as great as those kids.

If you go:

What: “Annie”

Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, Nov. 20-Dec. 19

Tickets: duluthplayhouse.org

Related Topics: THEATER
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