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By Beki Pineda. Image: Denver Center for the Performing Arts

ANNIE. Book by Thomas Meehan; music by Charles Strouse; lyrics and directed by Martin Chernin. Presented by Center Attractions (Buell Theater, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through May 10. Tickets at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Annie is nearly 40 years old and yet she still retains the uncompromising optimism of youth. The only hit show to come out of the 1977 Broadway season, ANNIE firmly planted original director Martin Chernin in the annals of show business. And he’s still going strong, directing this revival with a cast of  young newcomers and seasoned travelers.

The music of ANNIE also continues to resonate to new audiences. Leaving the recent performance at the Buell, one could not help but wonder which of those excited little girls leaving with their families were not begging for dance lessons so they could BE one of those little girls in Miss Hannigan’s charge. What fun it would be to knock out “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” and to torment Miss Hannigan.

However, this particular troupe of “little girls” seemed a little tired and artificial, saying their lines by rote rather than with any sense of spontaniety. While there was a sense of poignancy to Annie’s opening number—”Maybe”—as she dreams about her parents coming back to the orphanage to retrieve her, the rousing “Hard Knock” follow-up didn’t kickstart the production as it usually does. It wasn’t until Miss Hannigan began her shenannigans that the show got interesting. While unrealistic for the Great Depression era, Lynn Andrew’s zaftig curves were used to comic advantage in the musical numbers. “Easy Street” with Rooster, her brother (a Jack Sprat-like Garrett Deacon) and his girlfriend Lily (Lucy Warner) was a standout. Her unabashed kowtowing to Warbucks and the President in the second act was comic bliss.

Warbucks as played by Gilgamesh Taggett (isn’t that a fabulous name!?) was strong and brash until softened by Annie’s charm. His softer side was revealed in small sweet ways and expressed most touchingly in his solo “Something was Missing.” His assistant Grace Farrell was given a quiet dignity and devotion by Ashley Edler. One of the ensemble members got to step forward and take the spotlight in “NYC” as the Star to Be.  Hannah Slabaugh is an Amy Adams lookalike and sound-alike who, like Annie, won’t be an orphan (chorus member) for long.

This production is a great way to introduce the little girls and boys in your life to the fun of theater. There are easily identified good guys and bad guys, but even the “villains” are funny and get caught in the end. While the hoped-for happy ending isn’t totally realized for Annie, she still finds a home and a family.

WOW factor: 8.5