Well-known for its uplifting and catchy theme “Tomorrow,” the popular Broadway musical “Annie” is a moving and heartwarming show that resonates with theatre-goers of all ages. While recognized by many for its memorable score, fans of the feature film might be surprised by the more overt political message of the stage show. Boasting a cast that is brimming with both new talent and old, the Alhambra Theatre & Dining’s production stays true to the original show, portraying its message of positivity through adversity, even in times of societal unrest.
Originally produced in 1977, “Annie” is based on Harold Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip and follows the story of an 11-year-old orphan living in New York City at the height of the Great Depression. When Annie is invited to spend two weeks living with billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, she experiences many wonderful things for the first time, not the least of which being the love of a father. Annie is still determined to find her birth parents, however, so Warbucks commences a nationwide search. Eventually, Annie is thrown into the emotional conflict of choosing between the parents she has always longed for and the “Daddy” she has come to love.
In the Alhambra production, the dynamic between Daddy Warbucks and Annie - portrayed by Mark Poppleton and Jena Simmons - is both comical and touching to witness. Poppleton’s Warbucks is a believable “fish out of water,” charmingly bemused by the emotion he feels for Simmons’ sweet and innocent Annie. (Simmons, one of two girls cast in the lead role, will share the part of Annie with Beaches native Carlie Barnes throughout the show’s run.)
The show is well-cast, sporting an excellent ensemble that supports the main characters well. One noteworthy performance is that of Jennifer Medure as Grace Farrell. She performs the part with such talent and ease that it is difficult to believe that “Annie” is Medure’s first professional theater credit.
While fans of both the stage show and the film adaptations of “Annie” will recognize the overarching theme of optimism skillfully portrayed in the Alhambra production, those who first experienced the musical on the silver screen might be caught unawares by its politics.
When the show was first translated to film in 1982, several of the original songs were replaced with new songs written expressly for the movie. “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover” and “A New Deal for Christmas,” for instance, did not make the cut, both of which possess strong political references. The scene where Annie meets President Franklin Roosevelt is of course included in all versions of the show, as it is the iconic moment when Annie reminds not only those on stage, but the entire audience of the power of a positive attitude. By the end of the scene, she has both Republicans and Democrats alike singing together, literally, in harmony.
Overall, the Alhambra’s production of “Annie” stays faithful to the original stage production, and in so doing highlights the timelessness of the show. Political turmoil is something every generation experiences, and the optimistic message of positivity and unity that “Annie” promotes, regardless of political leanings, is quite refreshing.
“Annie” runs at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining through Aug. 13. For a fun family night out, and perhaps even an attitude adjustment, this show is definitely worth seeing.