Theatre Under the Stars creates a naturalistic and relaxed Annie

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      Book by Thomas Meehan. Music by Charles Strouse. Lyrics by Martin Charnin. Directed by Glynis Leyshon. A Theatre Under the Stars production. At Malkin Bowl on Wednesday, July 22. Continues on alternating nights until August 21

      The best thing about this Annie is Annie. Many of the kids I’ve seen playing the lead orphan in this musical have been interchangeable little clones of Ethel Merman. They have belted, they have posed, and they have worked every moment as if their young lives depended on it. In this Theatre Under the Stars production, nine-year-old Michelle Creber takes a more relaxed and subtle approach to the 11-year-old character, and it pays off.

      Creber’s Annie is less of a Broadway baby and more of a recognizable child. Her optimism isn’t driven by glassy-eyed mania; there’s vulnerability in it, innocence, and the sense that sadness lurks not far away. Under Glynis Leyshon’s direction, this young actor also nails every moment of comic timing. It’s amazing what a little motivated hesitation can do.

      In her singing, Creber does use the nasal quality that seems to be considered a prerequisite for this piece, but she’s gentler with it than most, she hits her notes, and she never forgets that every song tells a story.

      The other performers in the strong chorus of orphan girls are also having an enthusiastic, but not forced, good time. Olivia Steele-Falconer is particularly charming in the heart-stealing role of Molly, the youngest.

      The scale of the kids’ performances is at odds with some of the adult contributions to the unfolding plot. In this musical, Annie is invited to spend two weeks at the home of billionaire Daddy Warbucks. He soon wants to adopt her, of course, but Annie is holding out for the return of her birth parents, who left her at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage when she was an infant. Warbucks offers a $50,000 reward to any couple who can prove that they’re Annie’s mom and dad. The hateful Miss Hannigan, her brother Rooster, and his floozy, Lily St. Regis, plot to collect the dough and kill the kid.

      Playing Hannigan, Colleen Winton sings and moves beautifully, and she has a nicely quirky sense of the character, but the exaggerated scale of her performance feels out of whack in the relatively naturalistic world of this Annie. The same is true, to a lesser degree, of Todd Talbot’s Rooster.

      David Adams’s Warbucks never convincingly resists Annie’s charms, so some tension is lost. His baritone is this production’s most beautiful vocal instrument, however. And there’s real warmth when Warbucks fully connects with his sweet young charge.

      Despite some inconsistencies in style, this Annie is handsome. My 10-year-old pal and I both had a fine time.