By Kimberly Rau
“Annie” is at the Providence Performing Arts Center through Sunday, and this tour is a good one.
In case anyone is still somehow unaware of the plot of “Annie,” it’s 1933 in New York City. Annie is an optimistic redheaded orphan who firmly believes her parents will be coming back for her, because she has a letter that says so and half a locket that links her to them. She keeps running away from Miss Hannigan, the unhinged alcoholic who runs the orphanage, until she gets a chance to legitimately escape. In the middle of the Great Depression, billionaire Oliver Warbucks is looking to take in an orphan for the two weeks leading up to Christmas. This likely is less about altruism and more to fight the bad optics of being a billionaire while people live in newspaper huts under bridges mere blocks away. Nevertheless, Warbucks falls for Annie’s plucky charm and decides to make her part of the family. This is a feat not so easily accomplished, but despite the setbacks, there’s a happy ending in store for all (literally, since FDR’s New Deal is worked into the plot).
In terms of shows, audiences either love this one, or can’t stand it. But despite its somewhat polarizing effect, Annie is a well thought-out show with a solid plot and musical numbers you can really get into. And this particular tour features high production values, a most well-behaved rescue dog playing Sandy and a very skilled cast.
You have your orphans, a gaggle of girls who (mostly) stand together against Miss Hannigan and manage to make life as fun as possible when one is forced to eat cold mush in a drafty orphanage. The young actors playing these roles are as talented as you could want, and make numbers like “Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” a delight. Bronte Harrison plays Molly, a vulnerable orphan Annie takes under her wing. And despite how sweet she looks, Harrison’s Molly is a wonderfully funny spitfire.
Ellie Pulsifer is Annie, a role that’s as difficult as it is iconic, but Pulsifer makes it look easy. Her belt in songs like “Tomorrow” is clear and strong, and she’s able to soften it for more thoughtful numbers like “Maybe.” Pulsifer’s acting is as good as her voice is, making her performance a showstopper.
Christopher Swan plays the uptight but sensitive Daddy Warbucks, infusing the character with a perfect, dry wit. Swan has a strong voice that pairs well with both Pulsifer and Julia Nicole Hunter, who plays Warbucks’ secretary, Grace.
But in Annie, as in so many musicals, the best characters to watch are the villains, and Miss Hannigan is a heck of a bad guy. She’s loud, she’s drunk, she hits on every man around with a staggering lack of self-awareness, and she has some of the best songs in the score. Stefanie Londino steals the show in this role. Her voice is incredible in “Little Girls” and “Easy Street,” her sarcasm is immaculate, and she has mastered the balancing act of slapstick (just enough, not too much).
Add to that an already catchy score, a simple set that does the job but doesn’t overwhelm you, and some beautiful costuming choices, and you’ve got a hit.
“Annie” is a show that’s basically theatrical comfort food. It’s exactly the nostalgia you’re expecting, with no surprises, and strong acting and singing throughout. It’s also an excellent first show for younger audiences just learning to experience theater. In other words, if you’re thinking you or your family might like this production, you’re probably right.
“Annie” runs through Feb. 5 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787. Masks are optional.