'Annie' full of sugar and spice and everything nice for the holidays

Len Struttmann Photo

Annie (Evie Kunz) pours on the charm when she meets billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Scot Hughes), while his secretary, Grace (Anne Ohrt), watches the action unfold in “Annie.” The sunny musical is onstage through Dec. 10 at Theatre Cedar Rapids.
Len Struttmann Photo Annie (Evie Kunz) pours on the charm when she meets billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Scot Hughes), while his secretary, Grace (Anne Ohrt), watches the action unfold in “Annie.” The sunny musical is onstage through Dec. 10 at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Miss Hannigan and her 13 “rotten” ragamuffins will steal your heart the way the steal the show. Add in an adorable little pooch named Ralph in real life, and upcoming audiences will be cheering for “Annie” the way family and friends did throughout Thursday’s final dress rehearsal.

The solid-gold musical, which opened on Broadway 50 years ago, continues at least through Dec. 10 at Theatre Cedar Rapids. It’s not uncommon for holiday shows to add performances to meet ticket demands.

This production — the fourth time TCR has staged “Annie” since 1984 — has plenty of new baubles sprinkled from beginning to end, from preshow music on the Rhinestone Barton organ to a Christmas card moment after the curtain falls. In other words, don’t be dashing out the doors to beat traffic. Just chill in your chair, and I guarantee you’ll be warmed from head to toe. You might want to take a tissue or two.

Evie Kunz sparkles in the title role of little orphan Annie, who melts billionaire Oliver Warbucks’ heart when his secretary chooses her to spend the holidays at his Manhattan mansion.

Kunz turns on the charm during her wistful melody “Maybe,” in which she imagines her reunion with the parents who have promised to comeback for her someday. Her charm keeps going through “Tomorrow,” her signature ode to optimism during the Depression, sung as she clutches the winsome stray pooch Sandy in her arms. Kids and dogs will win you over every time.

The other dirty dozen orphans are full of spitfire and sass, too. They’re the vinegar to Miss Hannigan’s oil. Their choreography for “Hard Knock Life,” in which they’re scrubbing the orphanage in the middle of the night, brought down the house. Erin Helm and Anna Slife have outdone themselves in creating dance moves as crisp and clean as the aprons on Warbucks’ servants.

Pint-size Rigley Ohrt is beyond adorable as the youngest orphan, Molly. She’s the real-life daughter of Anne Ohrt, who plays Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell with polish, verve and a beautiful voice.

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Her lovely tones balance out the show’s weakest element. Scot Hughes cuts a dashing figure as Warbucks, but he really can’t sing. He makes a valiant effort, and late in the show, when he and Annie are bouncing through “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” he gives a knowing nod to the audience on the line, “You’ve made life a song/you’ve made me the singer.”

Despite his intonation challenges, Hughes is perfectly in tune with the sweet awkwardness of a man stepping way outside his comfort zone to embrace a newfound family life.

His real-life wife, Marcia Hughes, knocks Miss Hannigan right out of the ballpark. She’s brassy and boozy with the kids and flirty and floozy with all the men she encounters — including President Roosevelt, played with pomp and circumstance by Jon Day.

Little gems pop up all through the show, too, including the conniving couple of Brett Borden and Sara Maslowski as Rooster and Lily St. Regis. They are simply hilarious when they scheme with Rooster’s sister, Miss Hannigan, to pose as Annie’s parents and run off with the $50,000 reward Warbucks is offering in his quest to find Annie’s folks.

Everyone’s a hoot on the radio show where Warbucks announces the search; a special shoutout goes to Adam Burnham as radio host/ventriloquist/soft-shoe dancer Bert Healy. And Warbucks’ servants move in perfect synchronicity through their duties and glee at having a little girl to fuss over.

Director Jim Kern, music director Benjamin Schmidt, cast and crew are ready to deliver a special gift full of holiday cheer.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “Annie”

WHERE: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE

WHEN: Tonight (11/17) to Dec. 10; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $40 adults, $31 students, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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