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Family : 'Annie's' Charm Fades as Time Goes On

March 18, 1995|CORINNE FLOCKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — Broadway On Tour's production of "Annie," directed by troupe founder Dan Halkyard and featuring an enthusiastic cast of grade school through high school age actors, is by turns engaging, sweet and earnest as all get-out. But the thing it is most is long. Very long.

Halkyard not only presents the full script but includes two musical numbers that many companies omit. If you can forgive its length--nearly three hours--there is much to like about this show. But consider yourself forewarned: At last Sunday's matinee, most children under age 6 were visibly restless by the start of the second act.

As Annie, 11-year-old Rebecca Rainboldt approaches her part with more restraint than other young actresses this reviewer has seen in the role. Rainboldt's orphan is a plucky thing (would you wander alone in New York City?) but she doesn't hit you over the head with it. At times, she even seems vulnerable, especially during Daddy Warbucks' nationwide search for the parents who left her on the orphanage steps.

Josh Cuevas, 15, complements her well. His Warbucks (Halkyard spares him the typical bald skull cap) is a gentle giant. Sure, he controls one of the nation's few successful business empires during the Great Depression, but--like Rainboldt--Cuevas is no steamroller, and his initial uncertainty about just what to do with this 11-year-old is endearing.

Teen-agers Katie Bartosch and Erik Koehler provide comic contrast as Miss Hannigan and her con artist brother, Rooster. Bartosch, who seemed to be battling a cold, had some trouble with the role's musical demands, but she has the shrewishness bit down pat. With a bumper crop of sponge curlers and a $10 sneer, she is a genuine terror as the orphanage director. Koehler has some fine moments as Rooster, and although it was somewhat ragged, their rendition of "Easy Street" packed lots of punch.

With the exception of the rousing "Hard Knock Life," the ensemble--which performs variously as orphans, Warbucks' household staff, FDR's cabinet and the down-and-out residents of Hooverville--could benefit from more rehearsal of the musical numbers. It was clear, though, that many in the company are strong singers. As Annie's pal Molly, 6-year-old Alexa Wildish is charming and just bratty enough to be authentic.

Unlike other youth productions of the show, BOT's "Annie" doesn't cram the stage with bodies, so the dance numbers look like dances instead of synchronized crowd control. Neil Caplin's sets are simple and crisp, although the set changes, like the production overall, could use some trimming.

* "Annie," The City Shopping Center, 20 City Drive, Suite 138, Orange. Saturdays at 1 and 4:30 p.m. and Sundays at 4:30 p.m. Ends April 2. $6-$8. (714) 385-1555. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes with one intermission.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Rebecca Rainboldt: Annie

Josh Cuevas: Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks

Katie Bartosch: Miss Hannigan

Erik Koehler: Rooster Hannigan

Vanessa Ramich: Miss Farrell

Andy Moore: FDR

Alexa Wildish: Molly

A Broadway On Tour production, directed by Dan Halkyard. Produced by Sharon Hanenberg and Terry Dancer. Vocal direction: Ann Gelb. Choreography: Sandra Castelo. Sets: Neil Caplin. Costumes: Sharell Martin. Lighting: Dan Halkyard.

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