Non-Equity ‘Annie’ a hard-knock tour

COURTESY JOAN MARCUSIssie Swickle

Though W.C. Fields recommended never sharing a stage with kids and animals, associating with a production of the musical “Annie” makes that impossible. In the non-Equity production that just opened its orphanage at the Golden Gate, the animals – rescue hounds Macy and Sunny – turn out to be fine, but the kids are a mixed lot.

The true star in their ranks is not playing the title character, but in a few years she could and should. With her tight curls, tomboy mien and solid song and dance chops, the impishly named Lilly Mae Stewart is a genuine heart and scene-stealer in the second banana role of Molly. Her other cohorts are mostly solid little troupers, but noticeably light in the charm department.

It’s an early warning sign for this touring version of the second Broadway revival of the multiple Tony winner – seven categories including 1977 Best Musical – with a score by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and libretto by Thomas Meehan.

Further into the performance one wonders if director Charnin, 80, is having hearing problems because the general performance instruction seems to be FRONT and LOUD. Key song lyrics and tag lines – “Leapin’ lizards!” – are delivered like a car horn in a traffic jam.

Issie Swickle’s Annie moves through Act 1 like a Stepford Orphan, hitting marks and bleating out huge notes in a flat and adenoidal tone. She improves in Act 2, largely thanks to her pairing with the wonderfully named Gilgamesh Taggett as Daddy Warbucks. Though he has to reach for some of his notes, his genial and solidly grounded performance mines the best of Meehan’s well-crafted book.

In a performance that makes Melissa McCarty look subtle, Lynn Andrews works big girl physicality as Miss Hannigan. She definitely scores laughs, but soon after her first scene the character development becomes predictable and increasingly less funny. Her brother Rooster is far more intriguing in Garrett Deagon’s elastic and slithery stylings and “Easy Street” – adding Lucy Werner’s nail-filing Lily – works up a nice bounce. Ashley Edler brings a sweet restraint-covering-a-swooning-heart to Grace Farrell.

The adult ensemble does a fine job switching from destitute Hoovervillians to crisp Warbucks staffers, radio denizens and Roosevelt’s cabinet and Jeffrey B. Duncan earns kudos for finding the charm and respectful humor in his F.D.R. characterization.

It’s an impressive looking, smoothly moving production with Beowulf Borrit’s flying and swirling set pieces and stylish costumes by Suzy Benzinger. The ending can still tug at the heart, but even so, it’s a long slog to the good parts and the two-and-a-half hour running time found a lot of sleeping moppets in the house by the final curtain.

REVIEW

Annie

Presented by SHN

Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.

When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, noon and 5 p.m. Sundays; closes June 14

Tickets: $40 to $160

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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