• RATING: * * * ½
• WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
• WHEN: 2 p.m. today
• RUNNING TIME: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including an intermission
• TICKETS: $45-$89
• INFORMATION: 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org
* * * * Excellent* * * Good* * Fair* Poor
"Annie" doesn't just pluck the heart strings, it strums them at full force.
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If you're not touched by the spunky orphan who retains her optimistic spirit, you'll be moved by the scruffy dog Sandy who befriends her or the hardened businessman who melts in her presence.
Networks Presentations' lavish touring production, now at the Gallo Center for the Arts, is a feel-good show about keeping the faith in tough times. Its message of hope seems especially resonant now in the face of the lingering recession.
Based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, the musical debuted on Broadway in 1977 and was made into a film featuring Carol Burnett, Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters in 1982.
Madison Kerth, the 12-year-old who plays the title role in the touring production, doesn't let her energy level flag for a second and easily can belt out the show's biggest hit, "Tomorrow," to the back of the theater.
The only minor complaint is that she and some of the other performers sometimes bring the volume up to ear-piercing levels.
Waifish MacKenzie Aladjem, who plays Molly, sticks right with Annie in pep and offers the added bonus of doing a cartwheel.
All seven of the orphans (ages 8-14) perform with joyful precision in the dance numbers "It's a Hard-Knock Life" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."
But it's Lynn Andrews who nearly steals the show as comically mean orphanage supervisor Miss Hannigan. Her hilarious expressions, drunken dances and wicked tone of voice made her a crowd favorite at Friday's opening performance.
David Barton undergoes the biggest transformation as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, starting the show with a gruff demeanor and ending with a lot of heart.
The show is especially strong visually with front-rank sets by Ming Cho Lee that include a dismal orphanage, New York's Times Square, a radio studio and the White House. A palatial estate has a giant Christmas tree that lights up and huge windows that reveal falling snow.
The production should be careful for future performances that the intermission doesn't run too long. On Friday, the lengthy break caused the normally 2½ show to run nearly three hours, which is a little much, especially considering how many children are in the audience.
It was fun to see all the little girls decked out in their finest dresses and hair ribbons. Who knows, maybe a few of them will end up on stage one day, too.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2313.