by Beki Pineda

ANNIE – Written by Thomas Meehan; Music by Charles Strouse; Lyrics by Martin Charnin; Directed by Kris Graves. Produced by Performance Now Theatre Company (presented at Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway, Lakewood) through September 23. Tickets available at 303-987-7845 or Performancenow.org.

I thought this must be an anniversary year for ANNIE since there have been so many productions of this now-classic musical. But wrong again! The original Broadway show open in 1977 and ran for six years – so Annie is 41 years old while still being the perennial 10-year-old orphan. In the Performance Now production currently playing, Hazel Kachline – fresh from her successful portrayal of Mary Lennox in PNTC’s last production, THE SECRET GARDEN – is playing Annie with a streetwise look in her eye and eternal optimism in her heart.

Hazel’s strong performance as Annie is upheld by her little savvy band of orphans.  hey understand the world they live in, but find ways to defeat the slovenly Miss Hannigan (Jennifer Burnett) and bring small pleasures to their lives. Choreographer Andrew Bates has created charming and authentic dance routines for the girls that present their best selves. Director Kris Graves has created great contrast between the Hooverville citizens and the army of Warbuck’s servants using the same set of dancer/singers. Micheal O’Shea made the ultimate sacrifice of shaving his lovely full head of hair to portray the traditionally bald Daddy Warbucks. His solo – “Something Was Missing” – is a lovely song that I always forget about until it arrives; Micheal’s version was sweet and touching.

The comics in the show – Jennifer Burnett as Miss Hannigan, the orphanage matron; Cory Wendling as Rooster, Hannigan’s loose-limbed and larcenous brother; and Stacey D’Angelo as Lily, Rooster’s ditsy girlfriend – brighten every scene they are in. Their nefarious plot to present themselves as Annie’s long-lost parents form the conflict in the story; watching them get their come-uppance is the most fun of all.

The pit band started the overture sounding like a Salvation Army band in a whimsical tribute to the Depression in which the story is set, but quickly moved into a lively jazz-like medley of the songs from the show and provided strong support to the cast.  oing double duty, Graves and Bates also created the smoothly moving minimalist set using traditional three-sided periaktoi flats for easy scene changes. Cindy Franke’s era-specific costumes added both to the feeling of living in a Depression and living in a mansion. Vance McKenzie’s lighting lent a rosy glow to this uplifting tale.

The afternoon performance I attended was filled with older people for whom this was probably the tenth or twelfth time they had seen the show. But this time they brought their granddaughters with them to be enthralled with the singing and dancing. The house was full of Annie and Pepper wannabe’s and will-be’s. One of the greatest joys of doing theatre is that you never know who and how you will impact even one person in the audience to create the next generation of show kids.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!