Annie is a spectacular family treat just in time for the holidays, playing at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre
On hand for the first performance of Annie at Young People’s Theatre, my small companion and I filed in between a kindergarten class and a band of gangly Grade 8s and I wondered – is this going to work? Will this production appeal to such a big range of kids? Well, yes.
This production of Annie, clocking in at 80 minutes plus a five-minute curtain speech, is the TYA or Theatre for Young Audiences version – it’s mostly songs: complex subplots are dispensed with. The worrisome abduction of Annie is deleted altogether and replaced by a version in which Mr. Warbucks’ contacts at the FBI discover Rooster and Lily’s ruse before they get anywhere with dear, orphaned Annie. It’s a solid production, just the sort of thing a whole family can safely enjoy together, and quite a nice stepping stone for younger theatre patrons — between kiddie shows and full-length musicals.
This Annie is designed for younger kids, and listed at ages 5 and up, though many of the five-year-olds were restless halfway through and a goodly fraction of the kindergarteners left midway, never to return. The Grade 7s and 8s surrounding us, however, watched attentively the entire time. The piece is well-staged by artistic director Allen MacInnis, serving here as director as well, and the show keeps its energy quite nicely, beginning to end.
I will say that I found the performance a bit uneven. I expected a bit more from Jenny Weisz as Annie — a little more voice, a little more energy, a little more full-contact kid-ness — than she displayed here. Something about her portrayal of childhood was too studied for the flat-footed ball of energy that Annie should be. Louise Pitre, as Miss Hannigan, held down the other end of the spectrum with quite a hilariously wretched, somehow not scary, comic turn. My son laughed like a drain every time she came onstage, mugging and complaining. I also quite enjoyed Sterling Jarvis’s bombast and lovely voice as Daddy Warbucks, and was pleased to see a black actor playing the billionaire tycoon.
Children will relate to Annie’s pluck and determination to change her circumstances for the better (even if she doesn’t always think things through), which director Allen MacInnis gives extra attention to, a choice I really appreciated. Costume designer Melanie Mitchell deserves recognition here for her well-done interpretations of the early 30s idiom (for the wigs on those bureaucrats alone someone ought to give her a trophy).
MacInnis has pitched this production right into a sweet spot in family entertainment — there’s enough doing for most to find the 80 minutes passing painlessly, and many youngsters will be riveted. This show also gave me and my small companion a very natural opportunity to talk about kids with no homes or families and strategize about some ways our family might help kids in that situation, which also suits the holiday season very nicely. This performance is extended through school break, giving families who would like some special-treat entertainment a sterling choice (especially for families looking for an alternative to a Christmas Spectacular).
Because there’s no intermission, a visit to the washrooms first is fairly important with younger kids (use the ones on the lowest floors for a quicker trip). Boosters for smallish persons are available upon asking from the ushers. Last, the show is general admission, so if you want an aisle seat (or to be closer, as might be more engrossing for smaller children) arrive early though there’s really not a bad seat in the house.
Kid Plus One notes:
Darkness: There’s no full dark, though there are a few dim moments in the house; the stage always glows ambiently.
Loud/sudden noises: Brief but muted thunder at the very beginning.
Themes: Belonging, family, ingenuity, uniforms
Seating: general admission. All the seats are decent, choose higher seats for the best view.
Overall family-friendliness: High. There was a lot of music and noise to cover minor chattiness, and the cast and staff are friendly, helpful, and kid-positive.
- Annie plays at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front St E) until 29 December.
- See the calendar for showtimes; public showtimes are 11am and 2pm on Saturdays, 2pm Sundays, and a Saturday schedule from the 26th to 29th, but the public is welcome to attend school performances, subject to availability.
- Tickets range from $29 to $44
- Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling YPT box office at 416.862.2222