Review: The sunshine of SHN’s ‘Annie’ still joyful

Annie (Issie Swickle) and her dog Sandy (Sunny) take on Depression era New York CIty in "Annie," at the Golden Gate Theatre. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Annie (Issie Swickle) and her dog Sandy (Sunny) take on Depression era New York CIty in “Annie,” at the Golden Gate Theatre. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Annie is just so, you know, Annieish.

The sunny little depression era redhead with the can do attitude just has that “It” factor. And no one who has a sniveling, pessimistic outlook on life is gonna shut her down.

The newest production that is now running at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco is as pure as the driven snow, a throwback to a different kind of musical, one that makes you bop your head, coo at a big adorable dog that, on this night, yawned his ass off, and just have a purely enjoyable evening at the theatre. In addition, if you are my 11-year-old daughter, it also means that you sing loud and proud to every song in the show. Yeah, like EVERY song. Songs that are engrained in her head courtesy of Audra McDonald and Kathy Bates, thank God, and not from whatever that latest celluloid version was.

The story is familiar. Annie (wonderfully capable Issie Swickle) is an orphan of 11, and she knows time is running out. She is not waiting for any family to adopt her, mind you, but waiting for her own family to return and take her back home after leaving her on the doorstep as a baby.

While she waits, Grace Farrell (a gentle, low-key portrayal by Ashley Elder) makes a trip to the orphanage looking to borrow an orphan for a few weeks for her boss, Oliver Warbucks (Sung with a lovely texture by Gilgamesh Taggett). In order to snag Annie, Grace has to deal with the unlovable lush Ms. Hannigan (the ever brilliant Lynn Andrews). Annie’s good fortune leads her to bringing her sunshine to everyone, from those who occupy Hooverville’s to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a sunny Jeffrey B. Duncan). I mean, Annie is so hopeful, she can make having no money a thing of awesomeness. Such as, if you have no money in your pockets, you can keep your hands warmer. Annie would probably make Pollyanna say, “Damn girl, calm down.”

Ms. Hannigan (Lynn Andrews) basks in the anger of being surrounded by "Little Girls." (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Ms. Hannigan (Lynn Andrews) basks in the anger of being surrounded by “Little Girls.” (Photo by Joan Marcus)

It’s that joy and radiance that Warbucks falls in love with. And he embarks on helping her find her birth parents and offers a fat little reward. That’s where Hannigan’s no good brother Rooster (delightfully comic Garrett Deagon) and his gal Lily St. Regis (slick and slimy Lucy Werner) come into the picture, looking to get their grubby little hands on some serious scratch.

Just like anyone else who dabbles in theatre, I have seen my share of “Annie” productions. Some good, some bad, and some horrible. And the challenge of any production is the fact that “Annie” is one of the toughest productions to pull off because a child has to carry the show. To this end, 9-year-old Swickle was quite lovely and effective singing that very specific range. She certainly handles her role with aplomb, finding comfort with the plethora of performers Annie has to interact with.

Surrounding Swickle is a wonderful collection of classic song and dance folk, none of those more effective than Andrews, a woman who stole the show so fiercely I would not have been surprised if San Francisco PD would have burst through the Golden Gate Theatre doors to arrest her. Every aspect of her performance is on point, pounding through her numbers with sharp-as-a-tack focus.

Oliver Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett) and Annie (Swickle) form a strong bond. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Oliver Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett) and Annie (Swickle) form a strong bond. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Taggett has a wonderful, fatherly sense about him, finding such subtle nuance when it comes to the gruffness and the softness of Warbucks.

No matter how many times I have seen Annie, the music is a constant, the original score beautifully crafted by Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, who all won Tony awards in 1977 for the show. Standards such as the pathos-driven “Maybe,” the orphan fueled “Hard Knock Life,” the hopeful “Tomorrow,” and a personal favorite, “NYC” are all colorful and full of life. The aforementioned Andrews rips the song “Little Girls” to shreds in the best of ways, and “Easy Street” is a marvel in all its jazzy splendor. Liza Gennaro’s choreography certainly plays nicely with the vast, orchestra-filled score.

While my 11-year-old daughter and her 11-year-old buddy loved the show, I am not ashamed to admit I loved it too. “Annie” is a show that’s a throwback, a night at the theatre where little girls and dogs run around wreaking havoc on the stage. And when different generations can enjoy the same show, that’s a really cool thing.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

SHNSF presents “Annie”
Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Choreography by Liza Gennaro
Directed by Martin Charnin
The Word: A big and colorful production about America’s Depression era redhead brings forth lots of joy to the sunny score.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
June 3rd – June 14th
The Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $40 – $160
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com
www.anniethemusical.com
Twitter: @ANNIEonTour

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