IVINS — Based loosely on comics from the 1920s, Annie made its debut on Broadway in 1977 and, “Tomorrow,” has been in our heads ever since. Directed and choreographed by Mara Newbery Greer, the Tuacahn production follows the familiar orphan, played by Lydia Ricks, as she gets to be the lucky guest of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, played by Michael Scott Harris, for the holidays. The show follows Annie as she learns what it is like to live life on the wealthy side of Manhattan instead of in the poor orphanage run by Miss Hannigan, played by Terra C. Macleod

Show closes July 10, 2021.

I enjoyed the set design and projection design by Brad Shelton and Brad Peterson. When I speak to people about the history of musicals, I am surprised at how many do not know that Annie is based off of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, so seeing the comics prominently displayed on the set when I walked into the theatre was a wonderful ambiance for the start of the show. UTBA has made it a practice to update a theatre’s status regarding COVID protocol, and there are announcements at Tuacahn that patrons who have not been vaccinated are encouraged to wear masks. However, there is no mask mandate currently enforced in Utah, and there were few masks to be seen nor any attempts at socially distancing. It is an outdoor venue. If I had not been fully vaccinated, I am not sure how comfortable I would have felt in the environment.

One of the strongest elements of Annie was the live orchestra, conducted by Christopher Babbage. Returning to live theatre after the absence of COVID has been a reminder of talent and the importance of the arts, and the sound of live music echoing off the canyon was immensely pleasing. This experience was especially true during the song, “NYC,” where the full ensemble sings of the attributes of the city of Manhattan, which was matched by the designs of Shelton and Peterson. The bright lights and projections of the city on full display, along with the vocals that music director Babbage was able to get from the ensemble while also conducting the orchestra and with the dancing from choreographer Rachel Perlman all culminated in the apex of the evening. 

Of course, what is Annie without the chorus of young women who perform in it. The song that stands out in most productions is, “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” and Tuacahn’s production was no exception. The cast of young performers they have gathered together hit their harmonies with precision and their dance steps with ease. I was impressed with the hard work and dedication of these young performers. 

Lydia Ricks as Annie and Michael Scott Harris as Oliver Warbucks.

I was slightly disappointed with the wig that Annie wore during the first half of the show. Usually the technical elements at Tuacahn are second to none, including the wigs (this production’s wig designer was Dane R. Jimenez). But Annie’s hair line was unnatural and made the wig seem rather out of place. I understood the concept of Annie’s hair needing to look disheveled while she was at the orphanage, but there was just something off-putting about it. When Annie arrived at the Warbucks mansion, a different wig was put on her, and this wig was much improved. It made a big difference in her appearance and even her characterization. 

I have always been a big proponent of smaller characters, especially ones who really embody their character and personality, and in this production no one did so more than the character of Drake, the fantastic butler played by Benjamin Howes. Every line and interaction Howes as Drake had was so well done and well thought-out that I found myself wishing Howes as Drake was in every scene. This same thing happened with Sloan Griffith, who played the orphan July, who also had a fantastic tap dance solo with a complicated slide move in it that was flawless. 

Annie is an optimistic show that was written about a rather bleak time when the country was coming out of the Great Depression and trying to move forward. The production helps us value that optimism and helps us look toward moving forward with our own love of the arts and not taking for granted live productions and live arts. Sometimes, I forget that the simple optimism of a production can be good, because I prefer either the flashy or the deep and thought-provoking, of which Annie is neither; however, the show is hopeful and optimistic, and Greer has directed the Tuacahn cast to perform a hopeful and enjoyable evening of entertainment.

Annie plays at the Tuacahn Ampitheatre (1110 N. Tuacahn Drive, Ivins) on various days Monday-Saturday at 8:45 PM through July 10, 2021. Tickets are $25-$99. For more information, please visit their website.

This review is generously supported by a grant from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.