Nov 9, 2012
There’s a reason “Annie” has become a beloved classic since it first opened 35 years ago.
This is a show that was cooked up by pros at the top of their game. Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s score is unimpeachable: You may have heard of a little earworm called “Tomorrow,” and it’s not even the best song — that’s a tie between “Easy Street” and “Little Girls.”
The Depression era-set book by Thomas Meehan — who later went on to co-write “The Producers” and “Hairspray” — is smart, well-constructed and packed with memorable characters: an optimistic, red-haired heroine who single-handedly inspires FDR’s New Deal, a Hall of Fame villainess in Miss Hannigan, a billionaire job creator named Daddy Warbucks, and even a real live dog that answers to Sandy.
The elegant revival that opened last night at the Palace plays to all these strengths.
Lilla Crawford is assured and likable as the title’s pint-size belter, without overdoing the cutesy aw-shucks pluck. She’s matched with the ideal Daddy Warbucks of Anthony Warlow, a formidable Australian making his Broadway debut: manly gruff with a melty core and a smooth bourbon voice.
Director James Lapine gives us a kitsch-free and elegant take on this tale, bolstered by Susan Hilferty’s superb costumes, David Korins’ storybook sets and Donald Holder’s evocative lighting.
Then again, it’s no surprise that Lapine, who wrote the book for “Into the Woods,” would take this material seriously. When Annie sings “Tomorrow,” hugging Sandy (played by Sunny, a rescue dog) against a stylized, dramatically lit Brooklyn Bridge, the scene is both deeply felt and beautiful to look at.
Yet we must also deal with a central good news/bad news issue: As Miss Hannigan, the man-hungry alcoholic who runs a sweatshop of orphaned girls, Katie Finneran is totally right and totally wrong.
A couple of years ago, Finneran milked a 10-minute drunken scene in “Promises, Promises” into a Tony (her second, after “Noises Off”).
Now she extends the same skill set to a much juicier role, and she’s hilarious. She modulates her voice in ever-unpredictable ways, and seems made of rubber. Arms and legs akimbo, she makes going up and down stairs a go-for-broke comic feat.
But unlike Dorothy Loudon’s original, her Hannigan is never scary or menacing. And the show is off-kilter if we don’t buy that this embittered woman really hates her charges: “If I wring little necks/Surely I would get an acquittal!” she sings in “Little Girls.”
There’s a lot to love in this production — but maybe Miss Hannigan could have done with a little less.