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Civic's 'Annie' Raises the Woof

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C ' ' c’
'An n ie’
O ~ .
Wednesday night’s opener might havei
gone to the dogs - literally - yet Ann Ar- ff
bor Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie” F
is rollicking enough to charm any species. ;
Stellar performances notwithstanding, »
Wednesday evening’s true scene-stealer.
was an unbilled canine who bolted across _
the Lydia Mendels-
sohn stage, took a fly- i
ing leap and mugged a
percussionist in the orchestra pit. This fla- =i
grant ham should not be confused with Or- ,
phan Annie’s loyal dog Sandy, played with
admirable cool by four-legged Jasper Keen =
of Ann Arbor. . -. ‘
Alas, Jasper developed' a case of stage”
fright during Annie’s big number, “Tomor- j»
row,” pulling so tenaciously at his leash
that he ultimately dragged the pint-sized1`
moppet (Jody Westerman) straight into the T
wings. ~
Was W.C. Fields right about dogs? °;
Naaah. The method-school pooches merely L »
added to the evening’s merriment, lending _ '
credence to the belief that “Annie” may be A
the last of the truly jim big-time musicals ,_
in an era of Lloyd Webber operatics and f>
Sondheim angst. _ 3
Civic director Many Ann Stevenson has ~,
molded the Thomas Meehan-Martin Char- Q
nin-Charles Strouse romp into the approxi- 3"
mation of a living cartoon, true to “Annie’s" , ‘
comic~strip roots. ,
Westerman’s Annie could have stepped
straight out of the funnies, clad in frizzy red »
hair and a blue patched dress (later
switched to red). The same for Tim Hen- _
ning’s bald billionaire Daddy Warbucks, 4
who struts about as an imperious synthesis Q
of Charles Foster Kane and Humpty $-
Dumpty. ;
Huge Henning and teensy Westerrnani
make a priceless pair dancing about in the ;_
show’s latter stages. Yet so many folks _
contribute to this peppy production, includ-
ing the little-girl orphans who sleep nine- `
to-a-bed in a poverty-row orpahanage run j
by tyrannical, booze-sloshing Miss Hanni- »j
gan (Wendy Wright). Mopping the floor at '
four in the morning, they belt out,“Annie’s” ,
best song, “Hard Knock Life,” with the
squeaky exuberance of family of angry »
What’s remarkable about the show itself 7
is the mastery with which it resurrects a
tragic piece of history - The Great De-N
pression - and somehow makes it mirth-
ful without being offensive. The orphans <
are funny and feisty; Miss Hannigan,
played with great shake-’n’-bake zest by `
Wright, is a hoot - swindler, lush and
child-abuser though she may be. `
Ditto her criminal brother Rooster (Da- _
vid Zinn), who strives for menace by Hash-
ing a switchblade, yet succeeds only in cut- ~-
ting himself.
One is prepared to accuse “Forrest
Gump” of plagiarism when Annie leads
President Franklin Roosevelt (Troy D. Sill) '
and his cabinet in a group warble of “To- ,
morrow” - and in the process provides
the inspiration for FDR’s New Deal. »
True, sometimes emotions get a bit sog-
gf in “Annie’s” latter stages, And it can be
more than a little disturbing to watch the,
near-ruthless exercise of government-big-
business authority, even in service of nail- '
ing villains. Yet the musical is so fable-en- =
cased - a New York City fairy tale - that
any underlying soumess blissfully evap~ `
orates. ~
Cheers to costumer Monica Ladd for
clothing the cast in outrageously overdone, 1
cartoony garb. Hats off as well to Debbie
Korastinsky, whose very mobile set allows ~
the players to strut through some creative ~`
footwork choreographed by Ann Chapman.
Dominated by Henning’s grand comic por-
trait ofa tycoon with a heart, “Annie” could 3
charm a dog right off the stage. `
I wonder what Jasper’s pal will do f
tonight? 5
“Annie" will continue through Saturday at _
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in the U-M Q
League, 911 N. University Ave. Curtain is»8 2,
p.m. plus a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. For _
information call 971 -AACT . ;_