The beloved children’s musical Annie is a hit, but mostly miss. The hit is the adorable titular orphan, played by the vocally impressive Lilla Crawford. This girl is the real deal. She can act, belt and dance and does it with pluck, however, stealing the show is Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbucks. Warlow makes the cold-hearted tycoon who agrees, only for the good PR, to take Annie in for Christmas. He is a multilayered man who grows to love, and his journey of falling in love and wanting the best for Annie despite what that entails, brings on a realism that has depth. When Warlow and Crawford are on stage, the show comes alive.
If a show is not broken, do not fix it, yet director James Lapine has added more glitz and has taken out the heart, with changes that had me scratching my head as to the “whys.”
First of all, the characters have these heavy accents that sound more Brooklyn than Manhattan.
Second, in order to make a show work you need a protagonist. In the original, you had three of them. Miss Hannigan, who in the hands of Dorothy Loudon was a drunken witch, which made her entanglements with the headstrong orphans even more hilarious. In this production two-time Tony winner Katie Finneran just wants to have sex and drinks to console herself as she falls apart, instead of waging an on-going war; her brother Rooster (Clarke Thorell), who is the epitome of a slimy rat cooking up every scheme to make a buck (here, just a guy down on his luck); and Lily St Regis (J. Elaine Marcos), his dumb blonde bimbo, who is Filipino. Later on, Lily is supposed to pass as Annie’s mother. How?
Last, we are in the depression, yet the scenic design by David Korins, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and chopped up orchestrations by Michael Starobin, leave us feeling like this show ran out of money.
The casting for most of this show seems off. The orphans are high on perky and low on charm. The “Star to Be” is African-American to be politically correct, but not historically correct. Plus, Brynn O’Malley as Warbucks’ secretary, doesn’t have any chemistry with Warlow, so she comes off as an ice princess.
When lyricist Martin Charnin directed this show, it had spirit, soul and honesty. Thomas Meehan book and Charles Strouse’s music still hold up, even more so in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the Fiscal Cliff looming. Annie has become an anthem for New York and beyond. “Tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll love ya tomorrow,” will always have a soft spot in our hearts, but this show is a hard knock life.
Annie: Palace Theater, 1564 Broadway, at 47th St.