ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The revival now at the Palace Theater under the direction of Sondheim specialist James Lapine is certain to please a fresh crop of kids, dog lovers and optimists of all ages. For those with clear memories of the long running original, this Annie may fall short of some expectations. However, even if the sum of its parts don't add up to a perfect ten, enough of those parts are top tier. Enough so to make Annie fun and a likely family hit, especially during the Thanksgiving through Christmas holiday season.
The fun begins even before the curtain rises with the cell phone announcement via a lively bark from Sandy (off-stage name, Sunny). And no fear all you dog lovers. . . Sandy makes several other well-behaved, endearing appearances, and even has his own understudy to insure his presence no matter what.
Sandy is a major contributor to Annie' s being as enduring a hit as the Harold Gray comic strip that inspired it The human ranking at the top of the outstanding elements specific to this production is Anthony Warlow as the richest man in a generally poor country. He brings warmth and stature to Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks. His opera trained voice comfortably fills the huge venue, unspoiled by the amplification. I've always thought of Annie as pretty much a one song musical — that song of course being "Tomorrow" with lyrics upbeat enough to inspire Franklin D. Roosevelt (Merwin Foard) and his cabinet to sing it nnd create the New Deal and the W.P.A. Warlow not only adds new richness to one of that anthem's several reprises, but makes a strong case for the melodic wit of "NYC," "You Won't Be an Orphan for Long" and the emotional heft of "Missing" (a solo) and "Don't Need Anything But You."
As for the girl the show is all about, Lila Crawford is as cute as the perennial button. She has a big and belting a voice that almost seems too powerful for an 11-year-old. But talented as she is, Ms. Crawford doesn't quite succeed in establishing herself as a perfect ten Annie. She dances and prances around energetically and offers a fine rendition of "Tomorrow" but she's just not as memorable as Warlow. Also, and this is not her choice but a directorial decision, considering that she sports curly but long red tresses throughout and looks as pretty as a ragamuffin as in the coat Oliver Warbucks' assistant Miss Farrell Brynn O'Malley) buys for her, there's not a real sense of her Cinderella-like transition. When she finally dons the signature Orphan Annie red dress and short curly Orphan Annie wig, youngsters unfamiliar with the comic strip Annie are likely to wonder why in the world she looks less pretty now that she's a little princess? As my companion noted, the artificiality of that scene was oddly underlined by kabuki-like white makeup.
Just as important as Annie and her Daddy-Prince Charming is the play's villainess. That of course is the hard drinking, shrewish orphanage manager, Miss Hannagan. It's to see the Tony-Award winning Katie Finneran portray her that probably accounts for many of the adults without kids in the audience.
Finneran has been walking away with the lions' share of applause since her appearance as a ditsy blonde in Noises Off. A more recent scene stealing turn as a hilarious drunken barflay in the revival of Promises, Promises made her a natural for Hannigan. In the slinky outfits provided by Susan Hilferty, she's a rather too gorgeous gorgon, but she delivers the goods, though not to the point of stealing this show's top performer credits from Warlow. There are times when her bits of shtick are overcooked and feel borrowed from her Promises, Promises barfly. However, she does tap into the yearning romantic underneath the hard-drinking harridan she now plays.
This is a big cast, probably even bigger than Newsies, the other Depression era musical, this one about a bunch of young boys in need of a brighter Tomorrow. As with any Annie, it would take a heart of steel to resist being won over by the chorus of orphan girls singing "It's a Hardknock Life" at the New York Municipal Orphanage. Even though you're likely to miss some of the lyrics thanks to the Broadway-ish amplification, the initial scene when we first meet the children and the conniving Hannigan starts things off on a high note in terms of performances and staging. Other notable performers we first meet at the Orphanage include Brynn O'Malley as Oliver Warbuck's personal assistant Grace Farrell and Clarke Thorell as Rooster Hannigan, an even nastier piece of work than his sister.
Important as the performers are, the production values are a make or break element of any Broadway musical. David Mitchell's Tony Award Winning scenery no doubt contributed greatly to the original production's success. But there have been some tremendous advances in staging that have been incorporated into this revival to good advantage.
David Korins' flying, sliding and swivelling sets and Wendall K. Harrington's video projections are very much among the strongest assets specific to this production. Korins has created a dual stationary space. The orphanage, a grim affair with a staircase to indicate that what happens here is indeed life in the lower depths takes up about a third of the stage and the rest accommodates everything else. That everything else includes a scene at a dark Hooverville atmospherically lit by Donald Holder, the spectacular Warbuck mansion becoming increasingly more spectacular courtesy of a series of turning panels, and studio of the popular radio show where Warbucks offers a reward for Annie's true parents. A curtain of hanging undergarments that cover the entire stage at the beginning gets lifted upwards like a hovering cloud looks nice but doesn't really say anything. The orphan girls are forced to work for some sort of dress company but they're not incarcerated in the scandalous Irish Magdalene Laundries in Ireland.
Susan Hilfterty's costumes, Donald Holder's lighting and Brian Ronan's sound design are top drawer. The choreography, another Tony Award winning element of the original, is now handled by. Andy Blankenbuehler. It's lively and fun enough but there's nothing especially drop dead about it.
Charles Strouse's songs and Martin Charnin's lyrics hold up well and unlike so many musicals these days, doesn't have that hollow, over-miked sound. But if you ask anyone to name a song from the show, it's sure to be "Tomorrow" But Annie is not just for kids, but aims to please the whole family and moms and dads and grannies and granddads will find plenty of more sophisticated in numbers like “We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover.” And if Annie sends them home believing that “the sun’ll come out, tomorrow” and seeing big smiles on their kids' faces — who cares about any imperfections.
In case any reader wants a plot synopsis, it's includes after the song list.
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free
Anything Goes Cast Recording
Our review of the show
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show