"Annie," the Charles Strouse-Thomas Meehan-Martin Charnin perennial about the plucky comic strip orphan, arrived Tuesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center with renewed sparkle and buckets of charm.
Yes, the show still flags somewhat in the second act and seems a mite long at a little over 2 1/2 hours, especially for the youngest audience members. But the freshness of this new national tour, directed with buoyant touch by lyricist Charnin, who helmed the original Tony-winning production on Broadway some 30 years ago, makes up for such quibbles.
So does 12-year-old Marissa O'Donnell's performance in the title role.
O'Donnell has the prerequisite big, clarion-clear vocals -- and the acting chops not to overdo them. She heads a cadre of other scarily talented little girls, all of whom act, dance and sing like veterans, including scene-stealer Anastasia Korbal, 6, as youngest orphan Molly. They're upstaged only when the big fluffy canine playing Sandy (real name Lola) makes an entrance.
Alene Robertson mugs up a comic storm as blowsy orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, complemented by Scott Willis and Ashley Puckett Gonzales as bunco-artist Rooster and his partner-in-crime, Lily St. Regis. Elizabeth Broadhurst is a nice combination of warmth and svelte style as Daddy Warbucks' secretary Grace.
Conrad John Schuck, still one of the show's biggest assets after thousands of turns as gruff but kind Daddy Warbucks, reprises his signature role. Far from phoning it in, Schuck conveys subtle, un-cartoon-like emotional depth as the brusque billionaire who falls for a scrappy orphan. He and O'Donnell seem to have a genuinely tender connection; their waltzes together are downright lump-in-the-throat time.
Vocals are uniformly spot-on, while the score, with its Sousa-like brass accents and a few welcome dark notes, is delivered with crispness and bounce by a small ensemble led by music director Kelly Ann Lambert. The Kurt Weill-ish "We'd Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover," sung with heavy irony by down-and-outs in a "Hooverville" encampment, adds needed edge -- as does the gently satiric, catchphrase-laden Cabinet meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt (Allan Baker), the setup for a "Tomorrow" reprise.
Theoni V. Aldredge's costume designs (with additional costumes by Jimm Halliday) are sumptuous. And a big shout-out to set designer Ming Cho Lee for his contribution to the show's spirited renewal: delightfully askew, ever-so-slightly disturbing realizations of orphanage, city and mansion. Those bleak orphanage walls? You can almost feel the rising damp.
Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays,
1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays
Ends: Feb. 11
Price: $20 to $70
Contact: (714) 556-2787, www.ocpac.org
Running time: 2 hours, 38 minutes