Monday, January 28, 2013

Theater Review: Annie

On 20 April 1977, the choral director, who was also the orchestra conductor for the annual high school musical that I supervised and directed, accompanied me to the last preview of Annie at the Alvin Theatre.  And so, it seemed appropriate that I invite him to a recent performance of the current revival of the 1980 musical, which is now on the boards of the Palace. And the good news here is that the show, based on Harold Gray’s once-popular comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, still affords playgoers an enjoyable entertainment.

The popular work, for which Thomas Meehan wrote the book and Martin Charnin provided lyrics to Charles Strouse’s music, is set in New York City during the great Depression.  This was a time when a huge chasm existed between the underprivileged working class and the bourgeoisie.  But the show, which has been skillfully directed by James Lapine, is primarily about kids during this difficult time; and so, it’s not surprising that the curtain rises on a dormitory in an orphanage at bedtime.  Annie (the energetic Lilla Crawford) helps to calm the other girls by offering some hope to these inmates who lead “a hard knock life.”  She sings as she attempts to sooth the other orphans because “no one’s there when your dreams at night get creepy.”  The suitable dance steps here (and elsewhere) were created by Andy Blankenbuehler.

But it’s not long before we’re introduced to the villainous termagant, Miss Hannigan (an effectively over-the-top Katie Finneran), who insists that “if I wring/Little Necks/Surely I will get an acquittal.”  But Annie knows that “just thinkin’ about/Tomorrow/Clears away the cobwebs,/And the sorrow.” And it isn’t long before she’s rescued and living in the huge mansion owned by Daddy Warbucks (the excellent Anthony Warlow).  It is in this lavishness that Warbucks instructs his devoted secretary (Brynn O’Malley) to make sure that Annie is made to feel comfortable at her new home, where her orphan friends are always welcome.  And with a huge staff of butlers and maids, that task proves not to be too difficult.  She even gets to sing “Tomorrow” with F.D.R. (Merwin Foard).

Complications set in when Hannigan, her disreputable brother. Rooster (Clarke Thorell) and his scatterbrained girlfriend, Lily (J. Elaine Marcus) try to initiate a blackmail scheme.  But they are quickly dispelled. FDR promises a “New Deal for Christmas” and Sunny, Annie’s dog, gets his own curtain call.