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Center Stage

Orphans singing anthems

4/13/2016

 

Daddy Warbucks has thought a lot lately about Donald Trump. Our day-glo presidential wannabe, after all, can seem something like Warbucks, the tycoon who adopted Lil’ Orphan Annie. In both the old comic strip and the later musical, Warbucks, too, lives high above Manhattan, atop piles of cash.

“But Warbucks was never driven by greed,” claims Gilgamesh Taggett, handling the role on the current tour. “Warbucks comes from poverty. He just doesn’t want to suffer again — not at all like Trump.”

Taggett adds that, by adopting Annie, Warbucks finally connects to the world outside and the people struggling to get by during the Great Depression. She frees him from his own orphanage.

If that sounds preachy, it ought to. Since it first played Broadway in 1977, winning a number of awards, “Annie” has proven the very definition of family-friendly. Its plot, which brings Annie and Warbucks together and then fends off those who would snatch her away, pits good vs. evil with unapologetic simplicity.

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“There are no gray areas,” says Taggett. “Our bad guys — Garret Deagon and Lucy Werner — they’re just plain evil. That’s fun for an actor, playing wicked, and we all feed off the energy.”

The real energy source, to be sure, is the music. The tour arrives with its own orchestra, “an amazing group,” according to Taggett. The score’s capper remains “Tomorrow,” the anthem of eternal optimism, but elsewhere, too, the Charles Strouse music and Martin Charnin lyrics come together irresistibly. “A Hard-Knocks Life,” for one, proved so catchy that Jay-Z sampled it in “Ghetto Anthem.”

Both those tunes, importantly, feature the girls. The children, as much as the cartoon villains and big-hearted Daddy, are essential to this musical’s enduring power.

Annie Heidi Gray

“Annie.” Civic Center, www.desmoinesperformingarts.org. Friday – Saturday,

The title role has launched a number of careers, like Sarah Jessica Parker’s. As for Heidi Gray, the 11-year-old handling the role on this tour, Taggett describes her as “a darling.” The girl’s voice, he says, “has the expression that Annie needs; powerful and utterly genuine.”

Yet like all the school-age players, Gray travels with a tutor. When Taggett reveals that her grades earned honors, you can hear the sturdy Midwest values of a man brought up in Michigan. He takes pride in so many of the show’s details, including the suits — “made by hand in Manhattan’s Garment District” — that Warbucks wears. Then there are the older women who stop by after the show, grandkids in tow.

“These women come to the stage door with memorabilia,” he reveals. “They’ll have a playbill from 25 years ago.”

Not every girl who sees the show, he realizes, will go into show business. But anyone might come away empowered by Annie’s sunny fortitude.

“It’s such an honor to take part in a project that has such legs,” he says. “To see all the people we’ve touched, decade after decade, it’s testimony to the power of live theater.”

 

Overheard In the Lobby: Both Winterset and Ankeny community theatres have new shows up through the end of April. CV

 

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere.                        See www.johndomini.com.

 

April 15-16, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, 2 p.m.; Sunday, April 17, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

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