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BroadHollow’s ‘Annie’ has resonance, charm to spare

My, this play is timely, and not just because it’s great holiday entertainment. Based on the well−loved comic strip, with lyrics by Martin Charnin, music by Charles Strouse and book by Thomas Meehan, “Annie” is set in the Depression, another time when people were unemployed, broke, hungry and angry at their ex− (or soon to be ex−) president. This is the background of the story of the little orphaned girl who finds love and security through dint of her own goodness, unwavering optimism and feistiness. The latest revival is now at the Broadhollow Theatre.

Annie (the wonderful Alexa Joseph) lives in a girls’ orphanage in New York City ruled by the mean, bitter, perpetually drunk Miss Hannigan. Miss Hannigan is played by the enormously talented Broadhollow veteran Jennifer Hope, who, alas, does much of her best work playing screeching viragos — her Domina in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” last spring was just as enjoyably nasty.

Anyway, one auspicious day a lady named Grace arrives from Mr. Oliver Warbucks to collect an orphan to stay at his Fifth Avenue manse during the Christmas hols. Annie, who happens to be in the room awaiting Miss Hannigan’s latest punishment, all but volunteers. Warbucks, a billionaire when being a billionaire meant something, melts about five seconds after meeting this vivacious little girl with her red Afro, puts his battalion of servants at her disposal and tries to help her find her biological parents. Of course, he and everyone else half hope Annie’s parents don’t show up since he’s crazy to adopt her.

There must be villainy, and it comes in the persons of not only Miss Hannigan but her con artist brother Rooster and his floozy, Lily St. Regis. You know they can’t win, but that’s not the point. The point is the talents of the enormous cast, the wonderful music, Laura Wallace−Rhodes’ nimble direction, and the clever, flowing sets courtesy of scenic designer Brian Howard.

The performances are amazing, especially since much of the cast is made up of little children. The musical numbers performed by the orphanage girls are especially breathtaking when you consider that the little girls not only have to sing but perform complex choreography — “Hard Knock Life” is a highlight of the show. The grownups are also stellar, especially during the “Hooverville” number where Annie and her new found dog Sandy (Jamison) come upon a shanty town⁄soup kitchen where the ill−clad and ill−housed lament the Depression and curse the ex−president.

The lead characters are also first−rate. Matt Langen’s Oliver Warbucks is delightful and his transformation from a steely, business−minded magnate to a besotted would−be father is believable and touching. When he prepares to ask Annie if she’d like him to adopt her, he’s as nervous as any suitor asking a lady for her hand, and when Annie accepts he’s just as elated.

So, to deflect any ickiness, Grace serves as both his secretary and grown up love−interest. Anna R. Capocefalo glows as this pretty and good−hearted young woman, the antithesis of Miss Hannigan. Joseph gives Annie not only that good old Rooseveltian pluck but a certain pathos beneath it — she’s desperate to find her real parents, and all she has of them is half a locket and the note giving her up to the orphanage when she was an infant. Her singing voice, especially during the iconic “Tomorrow,” and “Maybe,” is sweet and clear.

Speaking of Roosevelt, Mike Gerbasi is both funny and dignified as the president, whom Warbucks feels free to call Franklin. Gerbasi also plays a ward and Bundles the laundry man. David Groeger is oily as Rooster — when he and Miss Hannigan pray to their dead mother they look down instead of up — and Rebecca Sharpe’s Lily is a marvelously vulgar dingbat.

Praise must also go to Meghan Santelli for the lighting design, Sherry Kfare for the costumes, everything from the orphan girls’ rags to Oliver Warbucks’ tuxes, and the ingenious Kevin Wallace for the choreography.

“Annie” is simply a joy. Bring the kids. If you don’t know any, grab one off the street. It will be at the Broadhollow through December 28.

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