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THEATER REVIEW 'ANNIE' : Happy Endings : High-energy performers carry the show, which suffers from sound system and dance flaws.

December 06, 1990|ANN VAN DER VEER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An electronic "Annie," with everyone but the dog vox-boxed to the hilt, was an enormous success when it opened a monthlong run at the Lobero Theater last weekend. This big, splashy, unabashedly schmaltzy musical, with its Christmas scene finale, is the perfect holiday family show.

Twelve-year-old Anne Jacoby has a certain natural boldness, which is right for the role of the famous red-haired orphan. She could probably belt "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" without so much high-tech help, but the poignant ballad "Maybe" loses much of its texture, nuance and heart.

Annie's fellow orphans are all adorable, talented and well-trained. Unfortunately, their smiles reveal expensive-looking braces, and their clothes are of a studied design. The only concession to poverty is that they're very carefully mismatched.

Madison, as Sandy, is a most lovable stage dog. Alas, he vanishes after the first couple of scenes and does not reappear until the finale. But when he's on, he does his part perfectly.

The show benefits greatly from the slick high-energy performances of four Equity guest artists. Norwood Smith, who plays Daddy Warbucks, reprises the role he played in the national company and on Broadway; Carol Arthur makes the role of Miss Hannigan her own; Jae Ross is Rooster, and Paul Grant plays the President.

From the time Annie is rescued from the orphanage and taken to Daddy Warbucks' mansion for Christmas, she has the audience in tow, rooting for her to find her real parents or, failing that, to live happily ever after as the tough billionaire's adopted daughter. As her adventures range from a visit to the homeless in Hooverville, ("We'd Like to Thank You") to the office of the President of the United States ("Tomorrow" reprise), one thing is sure--this show has enough heart (and Equity talent) to cover its flaws for all but the most experienced Broadway theatergoer.

That poor exile, while cringing periodically at the sound system, will lament the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera's lack of experienced dancers. Here's another show that must have auditioned "singers who can move" where singers and dancers were needed. Production number after production number consists of a string of people who gently kick one way, smile, join arms and gently kick the other way, raise their hands in the air and wiggle their fingers--nothing that a group of eager oldsters in an old folks home couldn't handle during recreation hour. In one number, the major event consists of the line, rooted like trees in a row, bending their knees in unison to the music. Come on!

What is needed is a ruthless director with a Hal Prince complex, where every tiny flaw is identified and eradicated.

WHERE AND WHEN

"Annie," presented by the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, at the Lobero Theater, 33 E. Canon Perdido, Santa Barbara, has been held over an extra week and will run through Dec. 30. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $22.50 Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees, and $21 for all other performances. Children, any performance, $11.25 (ages 5 to 12, children under 5 not admitted). Discounts for students, seniors and groups of 15 or more are available. Call the theater box office at 963-0761.

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