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Annie is Back at the Beck Center, With the Songs You Love (Or Hate) 

Do you really need to see Annie again, and hear once more that piping, dog-whistle tribute to procrastination in the signature song "Tomorrow"?

That's a rhetorical question; of course you need to see it. For one thing, it's fun to watch Republicans in the audience squirm in their seats when President FDR extols the virtues of federal programs—lots of them!—to cure the nation's financial ills after the Depression.

If there really were a Santa Claus, you'd think he would have coughed up something by now for all those orphans who dance and mop their hearts out in this show. But no, I guess orphanages don't have chimneys, since the threadbare rapscallions have no need for heat.

That's why they're back at Beck Center in an encore production, to pluck your heartstrings and give you one more chance to hear the song that glorifies the day that never comes.

Of course, this enduring theatrical property—book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin—is a surefire holiday hit. Especially when you have reliable performers in the starring roles. And that director Scott Spence has in spades.

Anna Barrett returns for her second swipe at the title role at Beck, and she pretty much has the gig nailed at this point. And her rendition of the aforementioned "Tomorrow" isn't as grating as it can sometimes be.

Assisting her in the orphanage chores, not to mention hoofing and singing, is an energetic and well-disciplined bunch of girls (Riley-Marie Haley, Elise Pakiela, Jade McGee, Maggie Devine, Erin Eisner, and Natalie Welch). They kick the snot out of "Hard Knock Life" and generally add loads of pre-teen zazz to the proceedings.

The orphan girls also do a bang-up job of dancing to "Fully Dressed," although their diction gets a bit sloppy in some scenes, rendering their words unintelligible.

Once again, there are standouts in the adult cast. Matthew Ryan Thompson is so greasy you want to wring him out as the conniving Rooster. He's the brother of Miss Hannigan, who this time around is a rollicking horror show as the warden of the orphanage. When they get together, along with Rooster's main squeeze Lily (Molly Huey), it's so good you wish it would go on forever.

Happily, Gilgamesh Taggett returns as Daddy Warbucks, since he has some nice, dry fun with his lines, playing counterpoint to the little-girl vibe that permeates this show.

The Beck Center main stage is perfectly sized for this production, nicely accommodating Trad A Burns' mansion, complete with a winding staircase. And costume designer Karen Ziegler's duds are appropriately luxurious, meager and trashy.

Indeed, this cartoon story about the extremes between rich and poor that occurred during the early 1930s actually has something to say. And it seems especially relevant these days as Congress votes to reduce or eliminate food stamps while continually giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals and corporations.

It seems that, as a country, we're impervious to the messages of Christmas shows such as this one and A Christmas Carol. But it never hurts to keep trying. One never knows when, in the words of the Annie closer "A New Deal for Christmas," we might be able to sing, "Call your committee up/Build every city up."

Anyhow, it's Annie. It's Christmas. And if you're not a fan, consider it a force of nature, like a tornado. Just hunker down under your basement stairs and wait for it to pass by.


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