By Manning Harris

“Annie” was with us exactly two years ago at the Fox, but you can’t keep a good girl down, not an unstoppable optimist like Annie, so she’s back in fine form in the Theater of the Stars production at the Fox through Jan. 22.

And here’s a newsflash for little girls who like to dream big:  “Annie” is coming back to Broadway later this year, 35 years after the original production.  So for all those beautiful little girls I saw last night, dressed to the nines with stars in their eyes, your chance is coming:  Will you be the next Andrea McArdle (the original Annie)?  The producers have begun a star search to rival the one that found Scarlett O’Hara.  Think I’m making this up?  Go to www.anniethemusical.com.  The sun may come out tomorrow.

“Annie,” set in New York in the depths of the Depression (1933), may be the ultimate Cinderella story, based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip series.  It has become a hugely profitable theatrical property; a movie in 1982, and it plays continually all over the world.

The version at the Fox stars Sally Struthers as Miss Hannigan, Broadway’s Brad Oscar as Oliver Warbucks, and 12-year-old Mary Peeples as Annie.  They all give stellar performances.  You may have heard the old show business adage—never share the stage with a child or an animal (remember Sandy, Annie’s dog?).  The adults in “Annie” have to be good because they must share the stage with both.

In the show’s most charming song, “Maybe,” Annie comments that her absent parents’ one mistake was giving her up, and she’s certain they’re out there somewhere, searching.  The boozy Miss Hannigan, who intensely dislikes children (“Little Girls”), quickly brings Annie back to reality.  The girls soar in “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.”  “Easy Street” is a genuine show-stopper, with Miss Hannigan, Rooster (James Young), and Lily St. Regis (Claci Miller).

But Annie’s fortune is about to change:  Billionaire Oliver Warbucks has decided to have his secretary (Haley Swindal) find an orphan who will spend the Christmas holiday in his 5th Avenue mansion, and guess who she picks.  The cast is large and crisply professional; nice to see Atlantan Dylan R. Hauck in the roster, as well as Jon Hayden (Drake).

Thomas Meehan wrote the book; music, Charles Strouse; lyrics, Martin Charnin; and direction and choreography by Norb Joerder.  I’m happy to report that the sound in the vast Fox is excellent, and so is the orchestra (Michael Dansicker, musical director).

If you go, “You Won’t Be an Orphan for Long” because “Annie” has many friends; and I daresay you’ll leave with a smile on your face.

For information and tickets, visit theaterofthestars.com.                ?

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.