NAPLES — The Naples Players production of "Annie" has orphans galore, but opening night belonged to one tiny tot - six-year-old Kylie Campbell (Molly); cute kids can bring an audience to their knees like nothing else in show business. This "Annie" isn't anything you haven't seen before - but it might be the cutest.
Warhorse musical "Annie," created from Harold Gray's now-defunct comic "Little Orphan Annie," opened on Broadway in 1977, ran for six years and made a star of Andrea McCardle, the original Annie. The tale of the red-headed orphan, mean matron Miss Hannigan and filthy rich Daddy Warbucks seems timeless.
"Annie" combines energy, powerful, soaring vocals, a simple plot, a charming cast, dastardly villains and acres of adorable children with smiling faces. The package sounds (and most certainly is) irresistible before the shaggy dog even runs across the stage.
Orphans - especially Campbell - steal the show. Director Dallas Dunnagan's decision to add youngsters to the orphan chorus paid off as the move ramps up the "cuteness" factor in spades. "Hard Knock Life" sizzles, as does "Fully Dressed." Most of the songs in "Annie" sing of hope for a brighter tomorrow - it was a musical set in the heart of the Great Depression - and these kids brim with it.
Jessica Daniels (she alternates the title role with Jessica Michaels Cohen) bounces across the stage with flair. Stage presence explodes out of her tiny frame - as does a voice that pierces the walls of the auditorium. Daniels nails the audience to their seats with the hopeful tones of "Tomorrow."
Former professional actress Debi Guthery staggers across the stage as a brilliant Miss Hannigan. Guthery belts the "Little Girls" lament and joins Randall Jones (Rooster) and Mary Anne McAvoy McKerrow (Lily St. Regis) for a delicious rump-shaking "Easy Street" number. Don't trust your kids to any of that trio. Jim Corsica (Daddy Warbucks) and Katie Raleigh (Grace Farrell) both seem subdued, as if careful not to upstage the child sharing the stage with them.
Beyond the obvious favorites, tunes from "Annie" prove delightful in the able hands of music director Charles Fornara and a cast that blends voices in gorgeous harmony. The "NYC" number, featuring Jasmine Vizena's vocals, showcases the vibrant melodies that a large group can produce.
The Warbucks mansion, hat-tip to Matt Flynn, oozes class with ice-blue walls and white trim, while the grim orphanage reeks of despair. Painted backdrops of New York add an artistic flair. Lighting (Jeff Weiss) seems inconsistent. Some scenes - "Hooverville" - play out in near darkness; others - "Something Was Missing" - have trouble focusing the spotlights.
Dot Auchmoody's costumes offer a whiff of the Depression-era setting but pop with color in unexpected places - a bold tie for Rooster, scarlet pajamas, a stunning sapphire ballgown for Grace - and yes, Annie's fabled red dress.
This "Annie" delights with the cutest cast of orphans around. They steal every scene they're in; check your purse to make sure they haven't stolen that too. Debi Guthery blasts away with a big, belty voice and a light comic touch and the show itself leaps right off the stage with life and spirit. There's nothing new here - just a well-done version of a classic - and there's nothing wrong with that.