If you go

What: The BDT Stage production of "Annie"

When: Through Feb. 24

Where: BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder

Cost: Tickets start at $43

More info: 303-449-6000 or www.bdtstage.com

W.C. Fields' old trope about the perils of working with children or animals in show business isn't infallible.

Plenty of young actors figure in the BDT Stage's current production of "Annie," as does a very well-trained pooch. None of their grown-up colleagues seem to suffer for the experience, as the onstage chemistry between all performers in this rendition of the 1976 musical by Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin is unimpeachable. Indeed, the show's cadre of young actors work seamlessly with the BDT's crew of experienced ensemble members, and the result is an energetic production that breathes life into aging material.

Based on Harold Gray's long-running comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," the musical has earned an unassailable spot in the pantheon of Broadway standards. With universally recognizable tunes like "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard Knock Life," the show has spawned countless revivals, a big-budget film adaptation and references across popular culture. The tale of Annie, an orphan searching for her roots in Depression-era New York, and Oliver Warbucks, the billionaire industrialist looking to establish his own sense of family, is a well-trod warhorse of the Great White Way.

That type of familiarity makes "Annie" an ideal candidate for the BDT Stage's winter/holiday selection. It's a show with roots, a production bound to summon fond memories for older patrons even as it appeals to younger audiences with its family-friendly, optimistic feel.


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Happily, the BDT production doesn't get bogged down by the show's status as a classic. This may be a musical that most of the theater-going world knows all too well, but director and co-choreographer Alicia K. Meyers works hard to offer a fresh spin on the material.

Darcy Keating and Lily Gruber are double-cast as Annie (Gruber played the role for the review performance), and they lead a troupe of energetic, effusive young actors playing the group of girls living in the New York City Municipal Orphanage. These roles are integral to creating and sustaining the mood of the show; Annie's duties as the lead character and the unfailing fount of optimism find support in the enthusiasm of her young colleagues. Their take on the ensemble number "It's the Hard Knock Life" is rousing and rowdy, even as Annie's multiple takes on "Tomorrow" are heartfelt and spirited.

The kids shine in this show, and that in turn helps the adults succeed in their own dramatic duties. BDT Stage mainstay Wayne Kennedy offers a nuanced take on Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, approaching the role of a Depression-era tycoon with nuance and sensitivity. Tracy Warren is similarly invested as Grace Farrell, Warbucks' faithful secretary who's the first to see Annie's potential as a member of the family.

These characters find support in a spectrum of larger-than-life roles with traits pulled straight from Gray's comic strip. BDT Ensemble member Scott Beyette and co-choreographer Danielle Scheib play Rooster and Lily St. Regis, cartoonish villains intent on claiming Annie for their own to claim a big reward. Annie Dwyer is just as evil in her turn as Miss Hannigan, the alcoholic taskmaster in charge of the orphanage who seethes with the malevolence of an evil stepmother from a Disney movie. Brian Burron plays President Franklin D. Roosevelt, not as an historical figure, but rather as a comic-book take on a wise and just leader, a politician who's not afraid to break into a chorus of "Tomorrow" with his assembled cabinet.

These characters are more sketches than in-depth studies, but they fit the mood and feel of the show. They find support in a skilled ensemble - players like Valerie Igoe, Tracey Dennig, Brian Cronan, Izzy Robie, Scott Severtson and TJ Mullin revolve as members of Warbucks' staff, colorful characters from 1930s-New York and players in a Depression-era radio show. Their vocal chops, enthusiasm and skill in bringing Meyers' and Scheib's choreography to life keep the mood consistent and compelling. Music director Neal Dunfee and the work of set designer Amy Campion help keep that spirit intact through both acts.

The total effect is a production that pays impressive tribute to the source material, a show that seeks to bring the spirit of the comic strip to life in a musical and dramatic format. The story is seeped in references to the Depression and the New Deal, and its gags don't always age well. Some of the jokes are groan-worthy, some of the tunes haven't weathered as well as the recognizable staples and the lead characters' arcs can feel a bit shallow. This show from 1976 tends to show its age in 2017.

But aged as it may be, this is a musical that's drawn generations of eager audiences; it's a production that's secured a spot in an elite club of classics. The BDT Stage production pays impressive tribute to all the elements that made this musical so durable, and they do it with sunny optimism and constant verve.