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As Long as We Remember...

March 23, 2007

Glorious "Annie!"

Roy Meachum

Marissa O'Donnell and John Schuck in The Hippodrome's "Annie."

The glorious musical "Annie" returned to Baltimore this week, stopping for only the next few days at the splendid Hippodrome Theatre. That's great news for Maryland pre-schoolers, especially girls.

And hundreds of them were there for Tuesday's opening, hair curled or straight, fancy or plain dress, obviously excited or trying to appear cool. Here and there, their male counterparts popped up, with fresh faces and ties that they did not tie themselves. Their youthful excitement generated a buzz throughout the whole theatre.

After almost exactly 30 years the musical's compelling attraction for the pre-school set remains powerful. Workshops and rehearsals aside, it began its pre-Broadway engagement in the Kennedy Center, on Sunday, March 6, 1977.

"Annie" opened in New York the following month and, despite some last-minute rescue efforts, it closed on January 2, 1983. That kind of business did not come entirely from tots. My point? There's plenty there for grown-ups. No one is too sophisticated.

Unreeling the tale of the orphan, who hits it big-time with big Daddy Warbucks, brings few surprises; but there are some, from the performers when not in the material. But who would want to change a note in a score led by the now-evergreen "Tomorrow." I don't care how frequently you've heard it, you know nothing about the song until sitting in an "Annie" audience.

Erase from your mind anything that says anything about this show is dated, except it's set in the depth of the Depression. Otherwise, for example, Peter Gennaro's choreography, sparked by daughter Liza Gennaro's touches, has the feeling that it was spawned yesterday while traveling down the Jersey turnpike.

John Schuck also did Daddy Warbucks on Broadway, which is to say he has the kind of comfort with the character as to make the audience more than comfortable. You might remember him from Rock Hudson's "McMillan and Wife," on television. If that's your memory, his Hippodrome appearances will knock your socks off.

This Annie (Marissa O'Donnell) comes loaded with an attitude that's exactly right. She also brims with talent in the acting and singing departments. At her tender years, it seemed to me she deserves rating as a consummate professional, which, incidentally, is the best thing I can say about any performer.

Alene Robertson portrayed a particularly scruffy keeper of the orphans; her Miss Hannigan was honed on Broadway. Then there's Elizabeth Broadhurst's Grace whose charms and great beauty are wasted on Warbucks, but not on me.

Six-year-old Anastasia Korbal is worth the price of admission alone. The tiniest of the orphans, she steals the show every time the production lets her. Astoundingly, she rolls her gymnast's body into a ball to be handed about. Wow!

Girls, women, men and dog, this is one of the largest casts I can recall from a traveling show and this "Annie" will be back on the road first thing Monday morning. What a shame, but only if you stay home.

Original director Martin Charnin has put together a production that stacks up with any of the finest. It's got the Great White Way's gorgeous taste that will light up your ride back to Frederick.

As you gather, I love this "Annie." No reservations about sending everyone down the pike to Baltimore's Hippodrome. But hurry. This weekend and it's gone. What a pity!

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