Annie, Drury Lane Oakbrook. The first Christmas special comes early this year: Charles Strouse’s irresistible 1977 heart-warmer, the tale of a plucky Depression-era orphan with an equally scrappy dog, Sandy. Annie never finds her parents, but she does settle into a life of unimaginable wealth with Daddy Warbucks and a surrogate mother, aptly named Grace.
It would be like kicking Sandy to pan this classic (though this Sandy is the kind of mutt you’d use for security). Ray Frewen’s staging doesn’t exactly twinkle, but it does glow on occasion. As richly shaped by Margaret James, the lively songs could raise lead balloons. But the sets leave too much to the imagination, especially Warbucks’s sepulchral mansion, and the costumes suggest the late rather than the early Depression. Here the acting is better than the singing, which is better than the dancing. But that homegrown quality makes a calculated musical seem as natural as its melodramatic plot permits.
David Girolmo almost steals the show with his irrepressible delight in portraying Oliver Warbucks, an American Scrooge who only needs a lesson in love to merit his money. Melissa Channick is a larger-than-life Annie, giving the leather-lunged tyke a brassy confidence. By now Alene Robertson could play nasty Miss Hannigan in her sleep–her funky chicken in “Easy Street” still convulses us–and Catherine Lord’s gracious Grace and Bill Scharpen’s jaunty FDR are newsreel-perfect.