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Bet your bottom dollar on Annie'

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Bet your bottom dollar on Annie' photo by M. Weston Photography
PTC presents modern musical favorite

BANGOR One of the most wonderful artistic traditions here in Bangor is the annual holiday production at Penobscot Theatre. It has become a vital part of this celebratory time for many area families.

For a long time, we got various and sundry adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic 'A Christmas Carol' the occasional 'Gift of the Magi' notwithstanding. In recent years, however, the offerings have diversified. We've gotten to spend time with Crumpet the Elf in David Sedaris's 'Santaland Diaries.' We've gotten the musical stylings of 'Plaid Tidings,' and we've watched Ralphie pine for a Red Ryder BB gun in 'A Christmas Story.'

This time around? We get 'Annie.' And it is freaking magical.

There's no need to waste much time with the story; we all know the story. Annie (Kate Fogg) is an orphan, left in the clutches of the casually cruel Miss Hannigan (A.J. Mooney) and an assortment of fellow foundlings.

But by the grace of Miss Grace Farrell (Brianne Beck), Annie finds herself swept up into the lap of luxury, spending two weeks at the home of billionaire industrialist Oliver Warbucks (Brendan Powers) and being doted upon by his happily helpful staff. Warbucks finds himself loving this little girl, but when he makes it his mission to find her real parents complete with a $50,000 reward - Miss Hannigan's shiftless brother Rooster (Dominick Varney) and his ladyfriend Lily (Christie Robinson) hatch a plan to get that money themselves.

Along the way, we meet a delightful cast of characters people who run the gamut from the destitute residents of a Depression-era Hooverville right on up to the President (Ben Layman) himself.

'Annie' is a tough show to screw up. It's such an uplifting, sweet experience that not even poor execution can mar it. Happily, PTC's production's execution is the polar opposite of poor.

We'll start with the performances. Fogg is a paragon of spunky sweetness as Annie. Her dialogue shines with optimism and her musical performances soar. Meanwhile, the rest of her orphan cohorts Molly Hagerty, Maia Loeb, Katherine Adam, Amanda Bustard, Abby Thompson and Raiya Vickberg are bundles of adorable energy, bringing the stage alive whenever they take it. Their bucket-bashing take on the iconic 'Hard Knock Life' is worth the price of admission by itself.

(Note: the roles of Annie and Molly are shared, also played by Lana Sabbagh and Emma Campbell, respectively.)

The adult ensemble does exceptional work as well. As Miss Ferrell, Beck is delightfully prim and proper while still giving us glimpses of the hopes and wants hovering just beneath the surface. Mooney stumbles drunkenly through each scenes as the crude and crass Miss Hannigan; her over-the-top callousness is great fun to watch. Varney and Robinson are delightful across the board, though both shine brightest in their scenery-chewing turns as Rooster and Lily; when they join forces with Mooney on 'Easy Street,' it is a show-stopper. Josh Schmersal, Jasmine Ireland, Bob Potts, Lauren Brickman, Ben Layman and Stephanie Colavito complete the ensemble, each bringing multiple roles and hence the world of the show to vibrant life.

And of course, there is Daddy Warbucks. Brendan Powers embodies the role with a charismatic magnetism; his is the sort of presence that unfailingly draws the eyes of an audience. His transformation from gruff businessman to soft-hearted family man feels genuine at every step along the way. The growth of his relationship with Annie in particular is beautiful and real. Throw in a magnificent singing voice and you've got a performance that is quite frankly phenomenal. Powers absolutely nails it.

Director Bari Newport took a chance tackling this beloved piece, but it was a gamble that has certainly paid off. She (along with choreographer Nathan Halvorson) brought this stylized world to vivid life, creating something that always felt real no matter how theatrical the proceedings got. Scenic designer Shannon Zura has created a larger than life world; the set is big in a way that evokes the world's bigness from a child's perspective. Meanwhile, lighting designer Shon Causer's lighting plot serves to expand and shrink that space as needed, creating that necessary sense of scale. Rebecca Wright's costume design was perfect for the period, to say nothing of simply enormous.

And of course, the band. Music director John Haskell leads Ellie Mae Shufro, Brian Nadeau, Scott Rappaport, Wellington Gordon and Howard Jones in providing the tunes; their music is the backbone, the heartbeat of the entire production, and they perform their task with skill and panache.

A show like 'Annie' is a huge undertaking for everyone involved especially around holiday time. Happily, PTC's production proves well worth the time spent; the cast and crew have created a wonderful world a world into which we are very lucky to have been invited.

Penobscot Theatre Company's production of 'Annie' is running through Dec. 29 at the Bangor Opera House. For tickets or more information, visit their website at penobscottheatre.org or call the box office at 942-3333.

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