KEARNEY — Crane River Theater’s production of “Annie” starts with a taste of the upcoming songs in the musical.
For audiences eager for action, the long pause with an empty stage and a string of familiar music might seem perplexing. Instead, think of the opening as a way to slow down, settle in and adjust to a world of orphans and endless optimism.
Everything about this show charms the audience, from the ever changing set to the high energy cast to the plot that never fails to tug at the heartstrings.
And then there’s Sandy.
Comedian W.C. Fields famously said, “Never work with children or animals” because they invariably will steal the scene.
This musical bounces that concept out the window when Annie, played by Hannah Geisz, first calls the dog on stage after the girl has escaped from Miss Hannigan’s orphanage in New York City.
Sandy, played by Remington Scott Sickler, a real dog, certainly makes the scene more interesting but knows better than to upstage the action.
As for children, the young people in the cast make the musical an unforgettable theatrical experience.
Crane River Theater presents “Annie” opening today at 7 p.m. with shows continuing through Aug. 5 at the Merryman Performing Arts Center. Tickets for the production are $24-$32 for adults and $12-$16 for students K-12.
As Annie, Geisz effortlessly pours emotion — along with an amazing voice — into each song. She leads the orphans in a high energy, and highly focused, version of “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” slamming buckets around on the verge of a revolt. The tough, yet tender, relationships of the orphans set the groundwork for this musical that reminds us that there’s a silver lining to just about any dark cloud.
Abandoned by her parents years ago, Annie lives in an orphanage run by Miss Hannigan, played by Becky Boesen. Annie escapes, only to be returned after getting caught by a policeman. Set around the Christmas season, billionaire Oliver Warbucks, played by Andy Harvey, ends up with an orphan in his mansion as a publicity stunt.
As they begin to bond, Daddy Warbucks and Annie learn what it means to care about each other, while still keeping a dream alive.
The Crane River Theater production runs a little longer than two hours, with intermission, but the high production values, the outstanding cast and the familiar songs makes the time disappear. With a cast of 43 performers, director Steve Barth paints pictures with people, never crowding the stage but populating the story with personalities that help tell a complex, always moving story about the bright side of life.
Come to see “Annie” not for the story, a story that almost everyone knows, but for the joy of watching it all come together in a way that moves effortlessly through a list of emotions, hopes and dreams, along with the desire to see a girl succeed in this rags-to-riches tale.
The sun will come out tomorrow. And you can bet your bottom dollar that “Annie” will provide a soundtrack to the summer theater season in Kearney, courtesy of a powerful cast, delightful choreography, thoughtful direction and a dog that adds just the right touch to this charming musical.