It’s Christmas in July at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. That’s because the orphans of the North Carolina Theatre production of Annie have taken over the main stage through Sunday.
Based on the comic strip created by Harold Gray, Annie tells the story of an orphan who wants nothing more than to find her parents. The musical opened on Broadway in 1977 and earned seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Thomas Meehan), and Best Original Score (Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin).
This North Carolina Theatre production, directed by Eric Woodall, boasts a talented ensemble of Broadway veterans and locals, including 12 North Carolina Theatre Conservatory students. Tony Award-winner Karen Ziemba channels her inner (comedic) queen of mean ever effectively as the show’s antagonist Miss Hannigan. Direct from the Broadway production of The Book of Morman, John Eric Parker commands the stage vocally as a magnetic Oliver Warbucks. And the exuberance of the orphan ensemble, particularly a scene-stealing Emily Jewel Hoder as Molly, is smile-worthy. In fact, I would argue the grandness of It’s a Hard-Knock Life, which features dozens of children, might be one of the most impressive staged versions of this production number ever.
But when you bring together an ensemble of 31 children, 20 adults, and an adopted shelter dog named Macy, things can get interesting. Production values might not be on par with previous North Carolina Theatre productions and some key performances might fall a little flat. And that’s what I was making note of during intermission when my daughter grabbed the pen from my hand and said, “It’s just an off night.”
And it’s that kind of childlike optimism that makes Annie work. It’s wholesome, family-friendly fare steeped in nostalgia that draws audiences in, kind of like the pull of some old stomping ground. It’s pleasant to revisit, just not quite as gratifying as you might remember it to be.
North Carolina Theatre’s production of Annie runs through Sunday at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. For more information visit: https://nctheatre.com/.