By Kay Kipling

Hannah Beatt as Annie.

It’s always good to see a packed house and an appreciative audience. I saw both last night at the Players’ production of the perennial holiday hit, Annie.

You may think that a show with surefire songs like Tomorrow and Hard Knock Life, plus all those appealing orphans, can’t miss. But I have seen productions of Annie that were problematic, due to casting issues or lack of verve. That certainly isn’t the case here; under the direction of Bob Trisolini, those orphans initially burst onto the stage in tightly choreographed moves (he’s responsible for that, too), and the almost breakneck pace of the show never lets up.

You wouldn’t expect a musical based on a comic strip to have subtlety or moments of intimate quiet, and Annie certainly does not. It’s very in your face; almost every moment is delivered with the same sort of relentless, upbeat drive possessed by the title character herself, who’s convinced she can find her long-missing parents and beat the Depression if she just sings loud enough.

Hannah Beatt is Annie here, complete with red wigs (the wigs are one minor annoyance here; they sometimes dwarf their wearers a bit). Although only 12, Beatt has plenty of theater experience already, having played other roles including the littler orphan Molly in this same show before. (This production’s Molly is Lilly Mae Stewart, cute and spunky as all get-out.) Beatt’s got powerful vocals and, like virtually everyone else in the cast, definitely knows how to put over a song.

It’s no wonder she’s the bane of orphanage director Miss Hannigan’s life, with her determination to escape the walls of that dwelling—especially when the home she escapes to is that of zillionaire Oliver Warbucks (Players newcomer Jgar Hellwig, a suitably strong and authoritative presence). Terri Solomon’s Hannigan may stumble around drunkenly a little too much (it is a show of very broad strokes, after all), but she is frequently funny, too, especially when teamed with her partners in larceny, brother Rooster (Scott Vitale, well-suited to the role) and his bimbo-ish girlfriend Lilly (Savannah Clair). The three are a treat plotting their rise to fortune on the always likable Easy Street number.

Some other Players stalwarts turn up doing nice work here, including Chip Fisher in a variety of roles (most notably radio star Bert Healy) and Shelley Whiteside as Warbucks’ Girl Friday, Grace Farrell. Bobby Brader’s musical direction, like the pace of the show overall, sometimes seems too fast, but there’s no denying you’ll get swept up by the holiday cheer on tap in this Annie. The production continues through Dec. 23; for tickets call 365-2494 or go to