Boulder's Dinner Theatre is at the top of its form. It has to be. How else could the company make Annie — its mandatory summer family show — anything but a smirking, sentimental bore? Okay, maybe my personal enjoyment was helped along by the fact that I shared my table with three-and-a-half-year-old Clara, who was wearing the kind of ruffled dress little girls adore, and — despite the growing fatigue that shadowed her eyes as the evening wore on — never took her fascinated gaze off the stage.
There were a lot of Clara-friendly things there. A dog, for example, a big, wambling beauty of a labradoodle named Maggie in real life; nine years old, the program said, but she could still caper like a pup when required, and every now and then she'd lick her co-star's chin, or gaze out at the audience with a knowing, curious look in her dark eyes. There were lots of kids, too, very cute kids, but not cute in that annoyingly self-conscious Hollywood way. Kids so full of wiggling, bumptious energy that you had to wonder just how director Scott Beyette managed to focus it into the joyous yet highly disciplined performances they all put out. But it wasn't just Maggie the dog, Jordan Morgan, Emma Kolbrener, Alei Russo, Anna Orsborn, Kaetlyn Arant, Abigail Orsborn and Olivia Hill — whose Annie was a shade stiff, but a poised, appropriately bustling little presence, with a snub nose and a terrific way with a song — who made the show so out-and-out enjoyable. It was the skill in evidence on every level.
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As everyone knows by now, the story of Annie — based on a comic strip that ran through the Depression and into the 1960s — concerns a little red-haired girl's rough life at an orphanage run by the vicious Miss Hannigan. Annie gets away; adopts stray dog Sandy; is invited into the mansion of Daddy Warbucks, a war profiteer with a heart of gold; helps FDR conceive of the New Deal (by singing to him about "Tomorrow"); rescues her fellow orphans; and is happily adopted by Warbucks, who — no doubt thanks in part to Annie's heart-melting qualities — has begun to realize his feelings for his comely secretary, Grace.
Like the kids and the dog, BDT's adult actors are uniformly appealing. Wayne Kennedy is restrained but powerful as Warbucks, and Shelly Cox-Robie, playing the aptly named Grace, once again pulls off the trick of being utterly kind and sweet without a trace of saccharine. A.K. Klimpke is a funny FDR, and Beyette himself plays Miss Hannigan's flashy brother, Rooster, with relish, accompanied by Cindy Lawrence as his devious and equally flashy sidekick. Ripping the head off a Raggedy Ann doll, hatching futile plots, tossing down booze and moaning about the plague of little girls she endures, Alicia Dunfee is a delight as Miss Hannigan, sleazy and vulnerable all at once. And the stage is dotted with other familiar faces — Brian Jackson, Joanie Brosseau-Beyette, Brian Norber — who sometimes take on smaller roles and sometimes join the chorus. The fact that these people have worked together so long adds sharpness to their timing and collegiality to their performances, whether they're singing, speaking or dancing. Each knows his or her own craft inside out, and each understands with almost equal intimacy the approach of everyone else.
Presented by Boulder's Dinner Theatre through September 5, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000, www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com.
As the proceedings rollick along, you start to notice how satisfying all the production values are, from Neal Dunfee's sweet, slick orchestra to Alicia Dunfee's choreography; from Linda Morken's meticulous costumes to Amy Campion's clever, three-turnstile set, on which we first see the city skyline, and then, as the turnstiles revolve, a group of homeless people sharing food in a Hooverville, Miss Hannigan's study, a street scene and Daddy Warbucks's opulent mansion with its platoon of happily singing servants.
It's been a long time since a three-year-old has been a daily part of my life, but I do remember that one of the great pleasures of my daughter's childhood was being able to relax and watch kid shows with her without embarrassment; I enjoyed whiling away a Sunday afternoon at a Muppet movie as much as she did. Seeing Annie with Clara was great, but even if you can't corral a kid, you can still capture that feeling. All you have to do is sit back and let the pleasures of this production take you to that silly, giggling, helium-filled and multi-colored place you still remember and that we all need to visit more often.