Friday, November 9, 2012
Annie at the Palace Theatre
The popular 1977 musical Annie has returned to Broadway. While this production contains some truly wonderful performances, particularly our beloved leading orphan and the billionaire whom she enchants her way into his heart, this current incarnation feels uneven and flat. This is a shame as there is the kernel of a truly brilliant show lying tantalizing out of reach.
Annie, based on the comic strip with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin tells the tale of our intrepid heroine. Left in an orphanage as a baby with half of a heart locket and a note promising to return one day, Annie dreams of being reunited with her parents. To that end she frequently runs away from the man-starved, alcoholic Miss Hannigan who runs the orphanage. During one of her escapes she finds a stray dog, whom she names Sandy. The two bond as Annie sings that Tomorrow will be a better day. Returned to the orphanage by the coppers, Annie is about to be punished when Grace Farrell, assistant to the billionaire Oliver Warbucks arrives to invite an orphan to spend Christmas with the richest man in America. Once there, Annie charms her way into Warbucks heart and he asks if he can adopt her. Annie declines saying that she will someday find her real parents. A national appeal draws the attention of Miss Hannigan, her shady brother, Rooster and Rooster's gal pal, Lily who plot to claim the reward money by posing as Annie's parents. Exciting adventures and even a visit to FDR eventual lead to a happy ending for everyone.
Despite a terrific set and costume design, director James Lapine and choreographer Andy Bankenbueler never seem to let this production fill the cavernous Palace Theater. Large production numbers such as NYC and New Deal for Christmas don't raise the roof. Some character interpretations seem out of place in a storybook musical. You know you have a problem when Clarke Thorell's Rooster Hannigan is a much more compelling character when he is impersonating Annie's father than he is when he's playing the slippery con man. Easy Street the villains' signature number usually stops the show. Here it just feels flat and uninspiring.
Katie Finneran like every subsequent Miss Hannigan has the ghost of Dorothy Loudon haunting the minds of theatergoers or those with access to You Tube. It is refreshing that she is trying a different interpretation. However, her Miss Hannigan seems mired in natural realism instead of the comically evil foil we are dying to love to hate.
The orphan girls are charming and each has a distinct personality. They do seem to have had their voices infected by the Noo Yawk dialect of the Newsies newsboys from the other side of Times Square.
Lilla Crawford's Annie is tough, but utterly charming and her smile lights up the far reaches of the Palace's highest balcony. She has a clear belting voice and shows genuine emotion particularly in her signature tunes Maybe and Tomorrow. She is well matched by her Daddy Warbucks. Anthony Warlow equally commands the stage and has great poignancy in his second act Something Was Missing. When the two combine on I Don't Need Anything But You the potential of this revival is fully realized for probably the only time in the entire two hours plus running time.
A special nod must go to famed animal trainer William Berloni who has once again worked his magic in finding a very special dog to portray Sandy. Young Sunny is a rescue dog who, as stated in her biography has the "soulful eyes" of the original Sandy. Mr. Berloni's amazing work over the decades since the original production of Annie to find incredible animals for the theater has given so many abandoned animals a chance at an amazing life. Sunny and her understudy Casey are ambassadors for the thousands of shelter animals that need a second chance.
Annie is playing the Palace Theater on Broadway. For tickets and other performance information please visit www.anniethemusical.com or www.ticketmaster.com.