If you happen to see crowds pouring out of the Penobscot Theatre over the next few weeks, I predict you will see a sea of smiles. Their current production of the musical “Annie” is a holiday offering of optimism, rousing musical numbers, hilarious comic baddies, and a bit of irresistible doggie improv.
“Annie” is set in New York City in 1933 when the Great Depression was at its lowest point and U.S. citizens were numbed by anger and desperation.
One red-haired orphan girl named Annie, determined to locate her missing parents, finds her way from the Hoovervilles of the homeless, to the parlor of the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, and even to the White House where she meets President Roosevelt. Annie wins over everyone she meets with her unstoppable optimism.
I had the great pleasure of seeing the show twice, which allowed me to see both Kate Fogg and Lana Sabbagh in the role of Annie, and both Raiya Vikberg and Emma Campbell in the role of Molly, the youngest orphan. Five more orphaned girls appear in every show.
I was impressed by the skill of these 8- to 12-year-old actresses — their musical precision, their high energy, their poise in the face of occasional microphone malfunctions, and especially their execution of Nathan Halvorson’s terrific choreography with wash buckets in “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”
A big nod goes to Director Bari Newport for drawing so much spirit and precision from her young performers.
Brendan Powers made a dashing Oliver Warbucks, and Brianne Beck was adorable in her role as his straightlaced and lovestruck assistant. The versatile ensemble played multiple roles with great vigor and humor. Of note is one particular solo in the song “NYC” which will knock your socks off, sung by high school junior Stephanie Colavito.
The incomparable A.J. Mooney is at the top of her game in the hilarious role of the bitter and frustrated Miss Hannigan, who runs Annie’s orphanage. Bravo to the little girls who manage to keep a straight face in scenes with Mooney. The best of the show comes when Mooney teams up with PTC regulars Dominick Varney and Christie Robinson. Their shared number, “Easy Street,” is not typically the peak of “Annie,” but this threesome draws upon each other’s most uproarious characterizations, and the crowd goes wild.
Of course, every production of “Annie” has a dog, which adds an element of the unknown. Zuzu the bulldog is a charmer as Sandy, even when she decides to lie down on the job. In collaboration with the Bangor Humane Society, PTC adds another twist which will please animal enthusiasts. At every intermission an “orphan” dog greets visitors in the lobby, in the hopes of finding a home this holiday season.
This is a huge and ambitious production for PTC, but it has come together delightfully — the costumes, the set, the choreography, and the lively pit orchestra all add depth and dimension to the experience. You will enjoy this heartwarming holiday entertainment.
Robin Clifford Wood is a freelance writer and columnist for the Bangor Daily News.
Correction: An earlier version of this story needs clarification. Brianne Beck is the actress who plays the character Grace Farrell.