On Theater: Teens carry off a delightful 'Annie'

For the teenage performers in South Coast Repertory's Theatre Conservatory Summer Players' revival of "Annie," they're presenting ancient history — not just the Depression-era mid-1930s but the roots of the 1977 musical itself, born long before they were.

"Annie" began life as a comic strip called "Little Orphan Annie," created by Harold Gray, back when "Brother, can you spare a dime?" was a familiar query. The musical version (from Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin) brought the plucky little lass back into the public consciousness, and countless revivals since have kept her center stage.

The Summer Players, under the tutelage of conservatory director Hisa Takakuwa, are taking a brief crack at the "Annie" legend (the show closes this weekend) on SCR's Julianne Argyros Stage. It's a show that's entertaining and, in one case, astonishing.

The role of Miss Hannigan, the "warden" of a New York orphanage where young Annie is initially quartered, typically is a showstopper, but in the hands of 17-year-old Shane Iverson, it's a star maker.

The scarlet-tressed Shane displays a superior comic acumen, even in her subtler moments (yes, there are a few), and a voice that'll knock you out of your seat. More, certainly, will be heard from this ultra-talented young lady.

Annie herself is well represented by Kelsey Bray, who blends social awkwardness with a fighting spirit to create a memorable character. She's particularly effective when bucking up President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a chipper Guy McEleney) and his Cabinet with her glass-half-full philosophy.

Curiously, both the show's male and female leads share the same first name. Kelsey Kato makes an authoritative but ultimately appealing Oliver Warbucks, whose fortune is in the billions even in the depths of the Depression. No shaved head here, but Kato presents a strong and confident character.

Allie Mgrublian is a prim and appealing Grace Farrell, Warbucks' secretary and possible romantic interest. Daniel Kim struts and preens avariciously as Rooster, Hannigan's shady brother, who's plotting a big score.

The "Hard-Knock Life" kids in the orphanage are rambunctious and adorable. Among that troupe are Kiera Callahan, Lauren Lyons, Grace O'Brien, Emme O'Toole, Sydney Pardo and Ella Webb. Jamie Ostmann also stands out as Labor Secretary Frances Perkins.

Viewed, necessarily, at a dress rehearsal, the Summer Players' production ripples with an upbeat attitude, even in the worst of times. Takakuwa and musical director Erin McNally have assembled a huge cast, and all its members work together nicely in the show's ensemble numbers.

You may have seen "Annie" a dozen times, but you'll still enjoy this junior version by the stars of tomorrow at South Coast Repertory's Theatre Conservatory.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Annie"

Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Closing performances at 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cost: $15 (adult) and $12 (child)

Information: (714) 708-5555 or http://www.scr.org

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