ELLSWORTH — Well, there should be plenty of smiles to fully dress audiences over the next two weekends when The Grand’s sweet production of “Annie” hits the stage again.
One would have to be the worst sort of curmudgeon not to crack a smile at the sight of a dozen or so raggedy youngsters singing and dancing about their “Hard Knock Life” while one of them, a spunky, redheaded girl named Annie (a fetchingly feisty Megan Gerbi), makes her escape from Miss Hannigan’s orphanage in a laundry basket.
Or when the cougarish Miss Hannigan herself (an excellently horrid Cassandra Palmer) belts out her lament about “Little Girls” while toting a couple of squirmy toddlers about the stage.
And please, how could one not grin when Miss Hannigan’s nefarious brother Rooster (a terrifically awful Mike Smith) and his ditzy girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Courtney Schusheim), who perfectly proves that brunettes can be dumb, too, sashay across the stage singing about “Easy Street”?
If all these delights somehow fail to brighten your face with a smile, there’s the nuclear option of adorableness deployed by tiny Lucia Dilena as the orphan Molly standing front and center with her big eyes and long braids singing so earnestly about orphanage life there isn’t a soul in the audience who didn’t want to adopt her on the spot.
There are some teary moments as well, such as when Annie sings about the parents she imagines will come for her, tomorrow, or when Daddy Warbucks (played with just the right amount of bluster and pathos by Bob Smith) sings about becoming a dad in “Something was Missing.”
Jim Fisher, who plays FDR, is perfect for this role. Not so much physically, but his natural delivery has a sort of old-fashioned cadence to it, reminiscent of the old radio actors. Several of the other cast members could learn a thing or two about projection and enunciation from him.
As Warbucks’ assistant Grace, Stephanie Clement is charming, although she’s one of those who needs to pump up the volume on her songs and dialogue.
In truth, there were a few wince-worthy moments, as well, with some serious pitch and projection problems from several of the singers and at Saturday night’s performance, the band, with the exception of some terrific trumpet solos from Ted Duffy, seemed under-rehearsed and at times overwhelmed the singers. This is something that, one hopes, will be corrected during the coming two weeks of performances.
Director Leslie Michaud, choreographer Jasmine Ireland and music director Holly Smith have done a fine job turning their little mob of moppets into something resembling a song and dance troupe and the adults do an especially good job in songs like “Hooverville” and “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here,” which even involves some impressive juggling! But there’s a little too much standing face front and delivering dialogue and songs to the audience, rather than to other characters, which interferes with their connecting with one another. Miss Hannigan, for instance, often seems to be more annoyed with the audience than the kids.
This “stand and deliver” blocking may have been made necessary by not using The Grand’s amplified sound system — a choice (if it was a choice) I might have applauded with a more seasoned cast, but even from a perfect seat in the audience of the sixth row center, much of the dialogue — especially from the kids — and some singing was completely lost.
Peter Miller’s set worked well for the most part, especially in Warbucks’ mansion although there was a notable dearth of stage dressing here, which made it all rather bleak, even in the Christmas scenes. The stack of blocks used for stairs in the orphanage, however, didn’t make sense and even looked a little scary when the smallest kids were clambering up and down them.
Joe Lewis’s lighting was great and Stephanie Urquart’s costumes put us properly in the Depression era.
Despite a few glitches and flaws this was an engaging show right out of the gate and should only improve in the coming performances this Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19-20, and next weekend, Oct. 26 and Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. and two 2 p.m. Sunday matinees Oct. 21 and Oct.28.
To reserve seats, call 667-9500 and visit www.grandonline.org.