Annie

Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by James Lapine
Featuring Anthony Warlow, Lilla  Crawford, Katie Finneran
Palace Theatre, Broadway at 47th Street
November 8, 2012 (opening) — open run
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 1, 2012

(L-R) Anthony Warlow, Lilla Crawford. Image by Joan Marcus.

Annie. A show I traveled to see in 1977 during its first year on Broadway on the cheap slow train from college-era Boston. Orphans, Hooverville denizens, great rousing ensemble numbers, and a fearsome yet somehow entrancing keeper of the klink and corraller of the pipsqueak charmers, Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan. What I’ve learned over the years, in several productions of this show since that first introduction, is that any orphans will charm you in this piece if they can sing and dance at all, and any bums railing against the system will inspire (or at least get your toes to tapping) in other of the now-standard tunes. A kid with spunk is plucked from the orphanage gaggle and indulged by a rigid rich dude whose heart melts and the corralling institution keeper Hannigan gets her comeuppance. That simple plot constructed out of a comic strip has three essential perspectives to portray to provide the sense of substance to a tissue thin cartoon essence — the Richie Rich über wealth of Daddy Warbucks , the spunk and charm and hopeful allure of orphan Annie herself , and the so-mean-you-love-to-hate-her orphanage mistress Miss Hannigan. The 1977 original gave us an Annie with spunk, a Miss Hannigan with razzmatazz and a believable anger, and a serviceable Daddy Warbucks to fund the happy ending.  In 2012 we have a Warbucks (Anthony Warlow) with a voice and a charm to blow you away and break your heart — who woulda thunk it), an Annie with pipes to spare (Lilla Crawford), and an imbalanced Hannigan (Katie Finneran) who no one fears, the kids make fun of, and who seems to feel embarrassed for herself. This balance cannot and does not stand for this particular cupcake of a show.

Annie and her fellow orphans, living their “Hard Knock Life” and avoiding the boozy oversight of Miss Hannigan, wonder about parents and futures. Annie’s spunk takes her out into the world.  But there is no emotional core to this production, revealing the essential role played by Miss Hannigan’s orphanage in what should be reality-with-humor-and-horror for the children, coupled with the Hooverville for the homeless adults (“We’d like to thank you Herbert Hoover, for really showing us the way”) to offset the opulence of the Warbucks mansion to which Annie is introduced.  Finneran gives us a Miss Hannigan and a  “Little Girls” about her world filled with thankless, life sucking brats that is needy rather than what should be insistent, belligerent, and bullying. In this production, our heroes with money and good deeds and heart have nothing against which to play.

Warlow’s Warbucks is a revelation. Dialogue describing his hard-nosed businessman pre-Annie softening works is delivered like I’ve never heard it before. “You don’t have to be nice to the people on the way up,” he says, “if you’re not coming back down.” And we believe this man as a Pollyanna Disney straw adult whose heart is softened by a charmer. Warlow’s delivery of the charming love song, adult to child, ” Something Was Missing” moves me for the first time.  Lilla Crawford as Annie is able to skirt the edge of girl and belter in this girl-belting role, and is as charming as the role demands. Her gaggle of orphan companions scamper, clamor, climb into drawers and delight everyone around them, as is required.

Choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler is effective in places (e.g. the White House cabinet singing “Tomorrow” in close barbershop harmony with accompanying movements), and out of step in others (e.g. ultilizing Busby Berkley moves in the otherwise somber Hooverville setup). Sets by David Korins are alternately evocative and flimsy. The best images on this historic Palace stage are the most skeletal and shadowy — e.g. the under metal bridgework nighttime Hooverville of “We’d Like to Thank You.” The orphanage that takes up part of the stage when it is present, a strange cardboard-y and out-of-place stretch limo as final visual for “Easy Street,” a fragmented Warbucks mansion. and a White House board room all look merely and oddly cheesy. Costumes by Susan Hilferty are by turns realistic and occasionally ill-fitting — e.g. Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell (Brynn O’Malley) in her final scene formal appears as a little girl playing dress up in her mother’s much larger gown.

In the end, this is a score that endures, with moments to cherish, in a production with a few key roles and design elements that fail to gel.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 27, 2012)

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