I’ve seen a lot of girls play the title role in “Annie” over the years and few have had both the voice and spunky charm needed to play the role.
Hannah Beatt has both in the delightful Players Theatre production, which is filled with all sorts of “ooh” and “aah” moments that keep audiences cheering.
Unlike other Annies you may have seen, Beatt is never robotic. She is living the role of a scrappy orphan who finds herself in a Depression-era dream when she gets to spend Christmas with the billionaire Oliver Warbucks.
You know you’re in good hands from the opening notes of “Maybe,” which she sings in a touching style. Beatt even does a great job handling Holly, the occasionally distracted but beautiful labradoodle who plays her dog, Sandy.
As lovely as Beatt is to watch, she is often upstaged by the precociously adorable Lilly Mae Stewart, who plays Molly, the youngest orphan in the care of the wicked Miss Hannigan. Stewart is cute and pugnacious, particularly when she does a funny imitation of Hannigan’s drunken kind of parenting.
The staged is filled with an energetic group of orphans who nicely milk the humor and pathos in “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” though musical director Bobby Brader keeps the tempo too fast for all the words to be clearly heard.
Terri Solomon is broad but not too much so as the blowsy Hannigan, a woman who has turned to drink to get hrough the challenges of a houseful of resourceful young girls. She gives a hint of long-gone kindness, until her her more wicked brother, Rooster (a smoothly conniving Scott Vitale) and and his girlfriend Lily (the graceful Savannah Clair) hatch a scheme to pose as Annie’s long-lost parents to get a quick and big pay day.
Over at the Warbucks mansion, nicely decorated by scenic designer Michael A. Gray, newcomer Jgar Hellwig bellows with sternness but quickly succumbs to Annie’s pleading eyes. He leads her on a walk through “NYC” and makes everyone delight at the sights and sounds. He has a strong voice filled with melancholy in “Something Was Missing.” He gets comforting support from Shelley Whiteside as his aide (and possibly more) Grace Farrell.
The production, directed and choreographed by Bob Trisolini, fairly flies by. Scenes ease smoothly from the orphanage to the mansion and the White House where Annie gets to inspire Franklin D. Roosevelt (Lee Schlesinger) and his cabinet to create the New Deal on the strength of her optimistic anthem “Tomorrow.” Perhaps Annie’s spirit is needed in Washington at the moment.
Kaylene McCaw’s costumes suit the characters, especially the ragamuffin orphans, and David M. Upton’s lighting keeps things clearly focused. The wigs unfortunately are a constant distraction, especially those for Annie.
By the end of the show, Beatt and the cast have the entire audience singing along making even the most jaded among them believe that the sun will come out tomorrow.