It's a Hard Knock Life for these orphans in the Royal City Musical Theatre Production of Annie. Photo by Tim Matheson.
It's a Hard Knock Life for these orphans in the Royal City Musical Theatre Production of Annie. Photo by Tim Matheson.

There is nothing like a good dose of musical theatre optimism to forget your troubles, and none does it better than Annie.

[pullquote]With a musical that relies largely on one young girl and the relationship with her new found parent, the combination of Julia MacLean and Steve Maddock makes this Annie a delight.  Throw in a dog and you’ve got the makings of a night that will leave you humming days later.[/pullquote]Now on stage at New Westminster’s Massey Theatre, Annie is one of those familiar musicals that tugs at your heart strings, makes you look forward to what tomorrow might bring and stamps anew some of its unforgettable songs that will keep you humming well beyond the final curtain.

Almost thirty years since it was first appeared on Broadway and set over 80 years ago, it is surprising how timeless this Tony-award winning musical about the rags-to-riches story of the gumptious young redhead still remains.  And for anyone that knows of its potentially saccharine-sweet story going in, you needn’t worry in this Royal City Musical Theatre production, as Director Valerie Easton does her best ensure we don’t leave with a toothache.

Even for those with just a passing knowledge of its story, it is a pretty good guess that a musical that boldly uses a mononym in its single word title will largely rest on the shoulders of the young woman who portrays her.  Fortunately Easton found one such 12-year old with some very big shoulders, Port Moody resident Julia MacLean.

The combination of Julie MacLean as Annie and Steve Maddock as Daddy Warbucks makes this Royal City Musical Theatre production a delight. Photo by Tim Matheson.
The combination of Julie MacLean as Annie and Steve Maddock as Daddy Warbucks makes this Royal City Musical Theatre production a delight. Photo by Tim Matheson.

While it might be easy to discount the triple threat hyperbole in Ms MacLean’s program biography, she soon proves that she really has that elusive combination of acting, dancing and most importantly, singing.  MacLean gets to show she is up to the task immediately as she moves quickly from the beautiful ballad “Maybe” to the iconic and fun “Hard Knock Life” and then to a beautiful rendition of the show’s most recognizable number “Tomorrow”.  There is a pluckiness and maturity in her portrayal that helps take the edge off the sweetness and by the time she and her new father sing “I Don’t Need Anything But You” you really do believe that good things can happen in this world.

Going against type, Easton helps to solidify the bond between Annie and Oliver Warbucks with the casting of Steve Maddock in the role as the Wall Street billionaire.  Younger, lankier and better looking than many of the traditional Warbucks seen over the years, there is a bond between him and MacLean when they are on stage together that is ultimately believable, and even as you see it is coming, there is still a beautifully realized moment as the two become a family.  Like his pint-size counterpart, Maddock has a beautiful singing voice and while he doesn’t get many opportunities to show off his dancing prowess, he nails the gradual softening of his character.  And when he sings “Something Was Missing” you believe it.

Surrounding MacLean and Maddock are a wonderful group of unforgettable characters.  MacLean’s real-life 8-year old sister Jaime MacLean steals each scene she is in as the littlest orphan Molly, and Mike Kovac makes the most of the reprobate Rooster with a wonderful sense of timing and a no-holds barred approach to his character.  Caitlin Clugston rises above the spectre of Carol Burnett’s portrayal of Miss Hannigan (arguably the best thing about the 1982 film version), proving that you can act drunk and still manage to sing and dance with clarity.

Then there are the orphans (Aubrey Maddock, Taylor Dianne Robinson, Avril Brigden, Jaime MacLean, Lucy Gill, Nathalie Joyal, Sydney Waack and Maya Schwartz-Dardick) who are the hardest working bunch in Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. Their energetic rendition of “Hard Knock Life” is one of the best you’re going to see west of Broadway.

For all its positives though, Easton is hampered somewhat by the pristine design of the production that barely differentiates between the life inside and outside Warbucks’s mansion.  Pacing takes a hit with a set design from Omanie Elias that requires  long changes, extending the show well beyond the bedtime for many of the younger members of the audience, as evidenced by more than a few being carried out in the arms of parents by its end.  Celebrating his own 25th anniversary is musical director James Bryson who leads his capable, although sometimes overly loud, orchestra.

With a musical that relies largely on one young girl and the relationship with her new found parent, the combination of Julia MacLean and Steve Maddock makes this Annie a family-friendly delight.  Throw in a dog and you’ve got the makings of a night that will leave you humming days later.

Book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin.  Direction and choreography by Valerie Easton. Musical direction by James Bryson.  A Royal City Musical Theatre production.  On stage at New Westminister’s Massey Theatre through April 26.  Visit http://royalcitymusicaltheatre.com for tickets and information.