Annie and her orphan friends are once again charming the crowds on Broadway.(Photo: ©2012 Joan Marcus )
NEW YORK -- Super-storm Sandy, make way for super-pooch Sandy, and his indomitable human companion.
bright sun has come out over a city ravaged by one of the worst natural
disasters in recent memory (not to mention one of the most bitter
presidential campaign seasons). Neither wind nor rain nor cynicism of
any stripe stands a chance against the thoroughly charming new
production of Annie (* * * 1/2) that opened Thursday at Broadway's Palace Theatre.
feel-good musical that first conquered NYC 35 years ago has always
posed a challenge to directors, and audiences, wary of sentimentality;
even in able hands, it can produce sugar shock, as anyone who has sat
through John Huston's 1982 film adaptation could attest.
helming this new revival, James Lapine -- the frequent Stephen Sondheim
collaborator whose many musical-theater credits also include such
acclaimed works as Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
-- manages to present the story of a Depression-era orphan girl who
wins the heart of a crusty financial titan as a portrait in pluck, in
which neither characters nor viewers are condescended to.
Casting is, of course, key. In Lilla Crawford, the alabaster-skinned
11-year-old who plays the title role, Lapine has a heroine who acts and
sings with a sweetly scrappy vitality that makes her entirely convincing
as an underprivileged urchin. Her scenes with the aforementioned Oliver
Warbucks -- played, by a superb Anthony Warlow, with a perfect mix of
no-nonsense vigor and slightly awkward tenderness -- are refreshingly
free of mugging.
So is Crawford's interaction with Sunny, the
sad-eyed rescue dog who pops up as Sandy. At a recent preview, the
little leading lady was belting out Annie's signature tune, Tomorrow,
when Sunny, adorably, seemed to become distracted by something she saw
off stage left. Crawford simply reached out to her canine castmate, as
if to re-assure her, and finished the tune without a hitch.
young girls cast as Annie's fellow sufferers back at the orphanage are
similarly authentic. Their production numbers, choreographed by Andy
Blankenbuehler, are spry and confident, but just rough enough around the
edges not to evoke stage kids. As Miss Hannigan, the foul-tempered lush
who presides over them, critics' darling Katie Finneran hams it up
more, but also sustains an acerbic wit and a very human sense of
disappointment and frustration.
The biggest revelation of this Annie, though, is how well the material has held up. Even if your ears chafed at the refrain from Tomorrow
by the end of the '70s, Charles Strouse's score is better than you may
recall, with buoyant melodies that are well-served by Martin Charnin's
playful, heartfelt lyrics. When Warlow's robust-voiced Warbucks, wishing
to adopt Annie, sings Something Was Missing, a wonder-struck declaration of paternal love, it's impossible not to be moved.
"Dreams do come true," Warlow croons -- and for Annie's duration, at least, you will believe him.