The crowd-pleasing “Annie” returns to the Muny stages with a bright young star and a vibrant supporting cast, creating a memorable evening of family friendly theater. With signature songs “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” introduced early in the show, the musical grabs your heart and doesn’t let go until the final bow. There’s plenty of laughs, engaging dancing, a heartwarming story and Sandy the dog to keep everyone entertained.
Annie lives in a small orphanage that serves as a front for child labor, as supervised by the cruel Miss Hannigan. Unlike the other girls, Annie has half a locket and a note from her parents, promising to come back for her. Shortly before Christmas, the billionaire Oliver Warbucks sends his assistant Grace Farrell to invite an orphan to stay with him for the holidays and Annie is selected. After a hesitant start, Annie and Warbucks hit it off splendidly, changing her life and improving things for the orphan girls.
Peyton Ella sparkles as Annie, radiating an infectious optimism and natural exuberance that reaches to the last row of the seats. Ella has a pleasing voice and a range that seems much bigger than her 12-year-old stature, and her phrasing is nicely varied. In addition to the previously mentioned numbers, her rendition of “Maybe” is thoroughly captivating.
Christopher Sieber and Britney Coleman provide excellent support as Warbucks and Farrell, with appealing voices and attitudes that are almost as compelling as Annie’s. Jennifer Simard is funny as the cackling, screaming Miss Hannigan, though “Easy Street,” her number with brother Rooster and his girl, felt a little flat on opening night. Ana Mc Alister, Samantha Iken, Trenay LaBelle, Amanda Willingham, Madeline Domain, and Ella Grace Roberts are terrific as Annie’s roommates and closest friends, and Patrick Blindauer, Abigail Isom, Whit Reichert and Julie Hanson are notable among the supporting cast. Sunny, the terrier mix that plays Sandy was completely comfortable in front of the large audience and they reacted with laughter and applause every time the canine pranced across the stage or ran into Annie’s arms.
Director John Tartaglia and musical director Colin Welford expertly play with emotion and levels, including a restrained approach to vibrato that adds a lot of swing to the numbers. Michael Schweikardt provides excellent stage design that’s filled with surprising touches and enhanced by the lighting, sound, video, and costume design. Choreographer Jessica Hartman is engaging and inventive in her approach, incorporating contemporary dance moves and expertly synchronizing the large ensemble.
“Annie” remains a favorite not only for its memorable songs and humorously hopeful theme, but also for its young stars. There’s a sense of can-do girl power to Ella and the other girls that lifts the Depression-era story. This show is all about a spunky young woman who nearly changes the world with her smile, and the company does an excellent job bringing the audience along for the fun.
The family-friendly musical “Annie” continues at The Muny through July 25. For more information call 314-361-1900 or visit muny.org.