Few if any shows can trace their origin to a 1885 poem. “Annie,” the multiple Tony Award-winning musical on stage at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre through Dec. 19, can do just that. The first appearance of the red-haired moppet was in “Little Orphant Annie,” a poem by Indiana’s own James Whitcomb Riley. The verse became visual in 1924 in a comic strip which dropped the “t” to become “Little Orphan Annie” and, in 1977, became a musical comedy titled even more succinctly “Annie.” With two film versions, revivals past and future and a long list productions amateur and professional, the Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin/Thomas Meehan creation shows no signs of stopping.
The reason why — and why it is a favorite around the Christmas holiday — is obvious in the WW production. The music is familiar enough to feel like an old friend and the heart-warming story of a small girl and her dog who triumph over every adversity is one that surely hits the audience right in its holiday heart. There are singing and dancing orphans, a red -headed waif and her adorably curly dog, a bald billionaire who can fix the problems of a nation just by picking up the phone and three dastardly, although comically appealing, villains. (Who could take thieves named Rooster and Lily St. Regis seriously?)
The obvious perils of “Annie” are finding the right pre-teens to portray Annie and her fellow orphans. They have to act, sing and dance, no easy assignment at any age. Their performances of “It’s A Hard Knock Life” and “Fully Dressed” show why these two numbers are sure fire show stoppers. And then there is the dog. Sandy doesn’t have to sing or dance, but he has to go to Annie on cue and not let the surrounding audience upset him (or her). The cumulative “ooohs” and “ahhs” which greeted his appearance and his comforting behaviour as Shaniah Ramsey delivered the show’s anthem of hope “Tomorrow” left no doubt Sandy (aka Madison) was a hit. The same is true of Ramsey, who creates a most endearing title character and shows a stage presence beyond her years. She hits all the right notes, vocally and dramatically and surely will be on the WW stage in seasons to come. Her nemesis, orphanage matron Miss Hannigan (Ashley Pankow), is right on as a blowsy boozer who hates “Little Girls” and dreams of a bigger and better life on “Easy Street.” Joining in her nefarious schemes are her recently-unincarcerated brother Rooster (Jake Klinkhammer) and his lady love, Lily St. Regis (Jennifer Dow), “named for the hotel.” Both are hilarious in their disguised attempts to cash in on Annie’s search for her parents. Oliver Warbucks (Mickey Fisher) assures Annie (Shaniah Ramsey) that they will find her parents in this scene from "Annie".Heading the search is Oliver Warbucks (Mickey Fisher), whose preoccupation with big business heads in another direction after Annie comes into his life. Fisher softens believably and “Something Was Missing,” is a touching moment. “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” sung with Annie and his secretary Grace (Lucy Horton), stepped up the tempo and provided Horton with another chance to display her solid soprano. Of course, the icing on the WW cake is the singing and dancing chorus, who do triple duty as “Hooverville” inhabitants, Warbucks’ staff members, residents of “N.Y.C.” and presidential cabinet members. Not the least of these is the ever dependable Mike Yocum who plays a laundry man, a cop and F.D.R. The set design was created for the 2004 WW production by the late Roy Hine. Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s costumes allow no uncertainty as to which side of the tracks the ensemble is portraying. Lee Harris leads the seven-member orchestra solidly through the tuneful score.The entire production is in the capable hands of director/choreographer Scott Michaels. It’s a great family way to celebrate the season.
“ANNIE” plays through Dec. 19 in the theatre at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For show times and tickets, call (574) 267-8041.