It’s eerie how “Annie” can be so relevant in the wake of Hurricane Sandy (not only the adorable mutt of the same name) and on the tails of our political debacles and economic woes. Maybe what we need is a Pres. Roosevelt and his cabinet’s solution to the Depression and unemployment of the 30s – A New Deal! Then we can all be singing “Tomorrow, tomorrow . . . it’s only a day away.” But I’m sort of straying.
The 1977 revival of “Annie,” at the Palace Theatre, is tinged with all the sweet, gushy stuff we loved in the first place – here a tear, there a tear and a whole lotta ohhh isn’t that cute, sweet, adorable! Like loveable mutt (oh, I mean mixed breed) Sandy who we’d like to see more often on stage. James Lapine has freshened up the rags to riches story and it’s a yummy, feel-good production.The 1977 revival of “Annie,” at the Palace Theatre, is tinged with all the sweet, gushy stuff we loved in the first place – here a tear, there a tear and a whole lotta ohhh isn’t that cute, sweet, adorable! Like loveable mutt (oh, I mean mixed breed) Sandy who we’d like to see more often on stage. James Lapine has freshened up the rags to riches story and it’s a yummy, feel-good production.
The story, if you don’t know it, is about a little red-headed orphan waif, in this case with a huge vocal capacity, 11 year old Lilla Crawford, and as Annie has been searching for her parents while living in an Orphan Home under the iron hand of Miss Hannigan (Tony winner Katie Finneran), who doesn’t like children one bit and is perennially inebriated. She’d like to find a guy but needs the money the City gives her to care for these poor urchins. Well, there again, care for them is stretching a point – they’re more like unpaid workers, mopping up, cleaning up, all sleeping in one bed, except for big-as-a button Molly (Emily Rosenfeld, a big ooh aah), who sleeps in a drawer under the stairs and steals the show every time she raises those little fists.
The girls are all deliciously talented as they stomp around with “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” the bigger girls using the little ones, lying on oversized mop-heads to clean up. But it’s Annie, every producer’s dream kid – spunky, pragmatic, unafraid and raring to go on a dime, who leads the pack with her optimistic outlook despite her circumstances, wowing with that big voice singing “Tomorrow.”
So when Annie’s chance arises as a PR stunt for billionaire Oliver Warbucks (glorious voiced Anthony Warlow) to take in a red-headed orphan for 2 weeks at his mansion, she jumps at the chance, as Miss Hannigan growls her objections but signs the papers for Warbucks’ secretary Grace (Brynn O’Malley). Finneran’s big Act I number, “Little Girls,” highly resembles the portrayal she gave as the drunken barfly Marge McDougall for which she won a Tony in “Promises, Promises” but she is cruel-fully funny, albeit over the top. There’s a whole lotta screaming going on with both Crawford and Finneran that could use some toning down.
However, the Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) classic tale has it all – balloons, tapping Santa and dancers, great costumes by Susan Hilferty, and cleverly designed storybook scenery in the mansion as the pages turn and the actors move in and out of the rooms. The crystal chandelier also morphs into a big bright Christmas Tree (David Korins, scenic design). Bigger dance production numbers would be nice but that was choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s call.
A big highlight is Australian Anthony Warlow as a low-key but always on the money gruff billionaire with a big heart. It’s delightful listening to him as he sings the heartfelt “Something Was Missing.”
When Miss Hannigan’s scheming bad guy brother Rooster (Clarke Thorell) and his floozy girlfriend Lily St. Regis (J. Elaine Marcos) hear about the luck bestowed upon little Annie, they’re already planning on how to get a $50,000 reward offered by Warbucks to find Annie’s real parents. The devious bawdy bunch just can’t wait to find themselves on “Easy Street.”
There are good performances turned in by Merwin Foard as F.D.R. along with Dennis Stowe as Morganthau, and a great supporting cast all around. The lighting is by David Holder; sound by Brian Ronan; projections by Wendall K. Harrington; hair design by Tom Watson; animal trainer, William Berloni.
After experiencing the exhilaration of “Annie” there’s no doubt ‘the sun will come out tomorrow!’