The thirtieth-anniversary production of “Annie” is in town on its way to New York for the holidays, and if you have any affection for this family musical whatsoever, this is an “Annie” that you won’t want to miss. Unlike the twentieth-anniversary production that had its pre-Broadway tryout at the Rosemont Theater and became a showcase for Nell Carter in the role of Miss Hannigan, this is a “back to basics” production directed by the show’s lyricist that seeks to place emphasis on a first-class ensemble cast rather than any specific individual. Instead of this Annie being a miniature Ethel Merman—an overconfident, sometimes cocky kid who could melt glass while warbling to Warbucks—the title role as played by Marissa O’Donnell is given something it has rarely had in the show’s many incarnations: vulnerability. Instead of having your skin crawl and wanting to hide under your chair, you actually like this Annie. You can see her grow on Daddy Warbucks and you can experience the emergence of their relationship and the gradual melting down of his heart. Even the show’s most annoying and sentimental songs sound convincing when O’Donnell sings them, for instead of a peppy anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow” becomes a somber hope for something better despite wretched conditions. No, “Annie” will never be a great show, but when all of the elements are as right as they are in this production, the show works in spite of itself. (Dennis Polkow)
LaSalle Bank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, (312)902-1400. Through October 1. $20-$72.