What a mixed bag this revival of Annie is. I was in the show as a kid (believe it or not, I played Daddy Warbucks) and I love the movie (Carol Burnett's turn as Miss Hannigan is one of the best comedic performances in history) so I have a lot of sentimental and nostalgic love for the show. On the other hand, there are several questionable production choices.
Let's be clear: families will love this. It's a good production of a family-friendly show that everyone knows. When families visit New York for the holidays this year, they'll flock to the show, and rightfully so. It's a good old fashioned musical with fun and memorable songs. But throughout, I found myself watching the story of little orphan Annie through two different sets of eyes.
Watching it as the 11 year old who was starring in her camp production, I loved this revival. My friend and I were singing and dancing in our seats and thrilling over our favorite songs. Annie's journey from rags to uber riches is sweet, and it's confidence-inspiring to see such a scrappy young lady at the center of the action. (I also got a bit misty during "It's a Hard Knock Life," watching these seven little girls live out a dream of performing on Broadway.)
Watching Annie has an adult, I was struck by the political points made in the show and parallels one can draw to our time. (As it happened, I saw the show the day before the election. When Annie sang "Tomorrow," I was comforted by the fact that even if Romney were to win, the sun would still come out tomorrow. Fortunately, though, I don't have to console myself!) In particular, my friend and I discussed whether Warbucks is really a good guy.
Here he is, Oliver Warbucks the billionaire, taking in an orphan for two weeks in order to soften his image. It's really kind of a jerk move, don't you think? With the cynicism that permeates our society these days, do you think Donald Trump could get away with something like that? Sure, by the end Warbucks' heart grows three sizes, but still, his initial intentions were rather glib.
But I digress. As I mentioned, this well-liked show, directed by James Lapine (Merrily We Roll Along), with
repeated tropes choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (Bring It On), has its production flaws. For example, the orphans are a (clearly purposefully) multicultural bunch. In trying to be politically correct in 2012, the producers are being grossly historically inaccurate for 1933. Moreover, those orphans, cute as they may be (especially the teeny-tiny pipsqueak playing Molly, Emily Rosenfeld) speak with a thick and bad New York accent. For accuracy's sake, it's unnecessary. And from a production standpoint, it's a distraction. Because the accents aren't good, most of the time the orphans' dialogue is unintelligible or else is sounds like they're in London rather than NYC.
Similarly, Rooster and Lily (Clarke Thorell and J. Elaine Marcos) were disappointing. Thorell's Rooster was too milquetoast and not nearly flamboyant enough for my taste and Marcos's Lily was, well I don't know what she was. When she opened her mouth, a screechy sound came out in somewhat stilted or broken English. I couldn't tell if she was supposed to be Latina and therefore without a full grip on the English language or if her high-pitched, baby voice was meant to indicate she's jail bait. Regardless, the interpretation fell flat.
Much to my surprise, though, I liked Katie Finneran's portrayal of Miss Hannigan. I couldn't stand Finneran in Promises, Promises, for which she won her second Tony Award, and so I had very low expectations here, especially since I knew I would be comparing her to Burnett the whole time. While she didn't blow me away, I appreciated Finneran's commitment to the boozy zaniness of Miss Hannigan and the way she put her own mark on the character.
For the role of Oliver Warbucks, Broadway welcomes the handsome Australian actor Anthony Warlow. With a flawless American accent, Warlow's Warbucks begins as incredibly gruff, shifts to harmless curmudgeon and finally lands on softened, loving Daddy Warbucks.
Warming his heart is Lilla Crawford in the title role. Crawford has a great voice - if she continues to train and take care of it, she could be a star for years to come. (Though the sound design of this production could stand to be altered so she doesn't sound like she's shouting-screaming at me.) She plays Annie with a great deal of spunk, and all the little girls in the audience loved her. (This is not her Broadway debut, by the way. She previously appeared in Billy Elliot.)
So, while I didn't love it from a critical standpoint, as a fan of the show and the movie, I'm glad I had the opportunity to see the show on a Broadway stage. (I'm also glad I saw the glorious costumes by Susan Hilferty. I want Grace Farrell's wardrobe! And I liked David Korins' scenic design, particularly Warbucks' mansion. As Grace showed Annie around the "home," the set opened like a story book, each page being a different room. It's a logistic and metaphoric winner.) Without the possibly terrorizing climax from the film, the stage version is entirely family-friendly, and a great choice for families, especially those with little girls.