When it comes to theatrical options, San Luis Obispo will not be confused with Broadway anytime soon. That does not mean that there are no options for the drama-starved crowd, however; it just means that you may have to dig a little deeper – and enjoy musicals.
If that’s the case, “Annie” – being performed at the Unity in San Luis Obispo through Feb. 3 – might be just the thing to cure the “post-break, back-to-school” depression.
Let’s first straighten one thing out: If you go expecting a Tony award-winning musical, you will no doubt be disappointed; this is community theater after all. But the lighthearted atmosphere leaves little room for criticism and has the power to not only put a smile on your face but make the smile a little wider.
For most, “Annie” will be a nostalgic trip back to childhood.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s the deal: The musical, best known for songs like “Hard-Knock Life” and “Tomorrow,” was based on Harold Gray’s comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie.”
It tells the story of a young girl, Annie, who grew up during the Great Depression in a New York City orphanage run by an evil, lonely drunk, Miss Hannigan. Left with a locket and a note, Annie still hopes to be reunited with her parents one day, so much so that she even runs away to find them.
Before being returned by the police, she shows continual optimism in spite of the gloomy conditions of Depression-era New York. Upon finding a stray dog, she fittingly names him Sunny.
Her return to the orphanage is timed with Grace Farrel’s arrival. She represents Oliver Warbucks, a multi-billionaire who wishes to host an orphan over the holidays. Despite Miss Hannigan’s protests, Annie is chosen.
Not used to children, Warbucks is slow to warm to Annie before becoming devoted to the charismatic youth and eventually deciding to adopt her. When Annie tells him about her parents, he vows to find them.
Hijinks ensue as a thousand leads turn up nothing. Miss Hannigan, her brother and his girlfriend are arrested for claiming to be Annie’s parents and the FBI finds out Annie’s parents are dead. Warbucks and Annie realize they couldn’t be without each other anyway, and Daddy Warbucks adopts the whole orphanage to put the shiny bow on the present, so to speak.
The classic theme of perseverance in the face of tremendous odds and Annie’s optimism can serve as inspiration for the most downtrodden “taking 20 units and the weight of these books is crushing me” student.
Even the performance’s imperfections don’t take away from the positive vibe the show has. The acting teeters between so-so and unexceptional, the recorded music is downright bad and the singing lands somewhere in between.
But the orphans, played by local youths, are pretty adorable. Plus, when the audience – the majority of whom still know the meaning of recess – begin to laugh, it’s difficult not to get caught up and giggle with them as well.
The ticket – $16, or the price of two movies – may seem a little steep, but it is an easy way to forget your burdens and be a child again for a few hours on a weekend afternoon.
“Annie” is playing at the Unity Playhouse at 1490 Southwood Dr. off Johnson Avenue at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays as well as 7 p.m. on Saturdays. It is the first of six productions at Unity by Kelrik Productions in the “Season of Dreams” that will run through July 20.