By: Eugene Paul
Brynn O’Malley, Lilla Crawford, Anthony Warlow and ensemble in a scene from Annie
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
Good heavens! The music! It’s not only way beyond familiar, it’s – it’s delightful! It’s effervescent! It’s got flavor! It’s even got pizzazz! And we’re only in the overture! I don’t remember it so inviting. Who’da thunk it? Another Annie revival? And that curtain musicals fling at you during the overture to stamp their show on your eyeballs, it’s rows and hanging rows of a mess of white laundry hanging from one side of the proscenium to the other in artistic swags, part of magician David Korins’ playbook of designs for the show? Well, we are so right; comic book settings harkening back to origins, flipping pages from one set to the other, grunge to gaga glamour and back and forth. But – it’s the music. If you thought you knew the score – not just “Tomorrow” which everybody and his mother knows, you’re thrilled and delighted at how fresh it seems, how new, how good, how right. Hooray for composer Charles Strouse! And since the music goes with words, hooray for lyricist Martin Charnin, too.
But there’s no question that without “Tomorrow,” this Annie – and maybe all the others – was a pretty perilous project. Think of it: a comic strip, from the 1920’s yet, about a little, red- headed, feisty orphan girl and her best friend, her dog Sandy, curses on the name. Not his fault, true, but We Know Why, Don’t We. We are up to our waists in comic book inspirations for our entertainment, which says something about us, but – a little orphan girl? Tug me a heart string. It did not hurt that a popular song of the days of the Great Depression was “Little Orphan Annie,” replete with heart strings and dog dialogue cribbed from the comic strip, as something of a courage bolsterer to tackle a huge musical based on said tender tyke. And didn’t we all learn to say “Arf” with the best of them. Which informed wise director James Lapine that no one on two legs can compete on a stage with a four-legged friend, so Sandy gets well deserved billing for doing his stuff, “Arf” or no “Arf”.
Lilla Crawford as Annie and Sunny as Sandy
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
There is a story line. Brace yourself. Get into your innocent comics mode. Annie, an orphan, resides in Miss Hannigan’s abode for orphan girls. Miss Hannigan (dazzling Katie Finneran) leaves no waggle unwaggled any time she’s near a male but she hates her job as dominatrix over a clutch of little orphan girls and hates them even more. She browbeats them and would also beat other parts in her alcoholic stupors if her coordination functioned. The kids slave away in response to her slightest whim of which she has none, all her whims being major. Annie makes a break for freedom but is captured and returned to Miss Hannigan’s bitter, buxom bosom which coincides nicely as an event with Miss Grace Farrell’s search for a suitable orphan girl to house and nurture – for a week – in order to soften the public image of her boss, the redoubtable Oliver Warbucks, the richest man in the world, back when a billion really was a billion. Grace (lovely Brynn O’Malley) chooses Annie, of course, to stay at Warbuck’s super super fabulous fabulous residence. It takes practically no time for gruff Warbucks (simply wonderful Anthony Warlow) to be putty in Annie’s dainty hands.
He wants to adopt her. You are so surprised. Wait: Annie has been searching all her eleven years for her real parents. Gosh. Warbucks mans up, backs off. He will make the search his project, goes right to the president of the U.S. A., F. D. R. Which plays right into the larcenous hands of Miss Hannigan’s ne’er-do-well brother, Rooster (snarlingly good Clarke Thorell). There is, of course, a reward involved, but that’s not all. Miss Hannigan wants in. Now they can’t miss. She has all Annie’s history. And durned if they don’t almost pull it off, this low down, nefarious plot. And on Christmas Eve! At the Warbucks mansion! With president F.D.R right there! Isn’t it too much?
Katie Finneran, Clarke Thorell and J. Elaine Marcos in a scene from Annie
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
Well, of course, it is, but when was too much too much? You want happy endings, don’t you? You want tap dancing? You want glittering staircase? And a dog that says, “Arf!” Book writer Thomas Meehan doesn’t miss a trick. Everyone works his or her buns off especially the charmless little robot who plays Annie, pitch perfect, brass lungs amplified, every cue nailed. Carrying most of the show in his splendid American debut is noted Australian star Anthony Warlow. No Daddy Warbucks can touch him for charm, voice and musicality. The score, so good, is better than ever remembered and at its best whenever he performs. He makes each of his songs seem like new hits. I admired some of the shenanigans choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler created, especially for his orphans, and adored the littlest of them, Emily Rosenfeld, a trouper if ever there was one. Katie Finneran is far too fabulous to prance around as a pratty Miss Hannigan, however. Costume designer Susan Hilferty has outfitted everyone more handsomely than anybody ever looked in 1933 but that’s musicals for you. Musically, Annie is better than ever.
Annie (open run)
Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway at 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-448-7849 or online at http://www.anniethemusical.com
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