It is an odd thing indeed to watch Sandy get a huge ovation from New Yorkers.
But in a quirk of timing, the storm that has caused so much misery across the city also shares its name with a hairy mutt who stars in a new Broadway revival of “Annie.”
Thankfully, theatergoers are a forgiving sort and the Sandy who bounds about onstage at the Palace Theatre produces mostly appreciative coos — one of the highlights of a somewhat uneven revival that opened Thursday.
The slow-to-start musical features an appealing 11-year-old Lilla Crawford in the title role, an overcooked Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan and a first-rate Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbucks.
James Lapine grounds the most rejiggered show in history — a Great Depression, homelessness on the Lower East Side, soup kitchens and hungry orphans — that may seem virtually documentary these days.
Finneran and Warlow seem to be in different shows. If you missed her in her Tony Award-winning turn as a daffy, drunken floozy in “Promises, Promises,” she reprises it here. In fact, she does very little new, right down to her stretching out words by plunging her voice deep at the end of thoughts and stretching her body onto every piece of furniture. A gifted comedic actress, she is on autopilot here.
If Finneran is big and brassy and broad, Warlow is the opposite. This Australian actor brings gravitas and a sumptuous voice to Warbucks. His is a performance of subtlety, of small eyebrow movements — the only thing blustery is his Noo Yawk accent, nailed. Perhaps the reason the first half drags is he’s not in it much.
The music by Charles Strouse with lyrics by Martin Charnin contains gems like “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and “Tomorrow,” reminding everyone why even Jay-Z came calling to lift something from “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” Thomas Meehan’s sugary story stands the test of time, even if it sags in spots.
In addition to Sandy — actually played by a terrier mix called Sunny in most shows — “Annie” gets a huge lift from David Korins’ smart, industrious sets, in which the walls of houses move like pages in a book, spiral staircases soar upward, a limo accordians out from a smaller car delightfully, and the grimness of poverty is made stark by a black-and-white Brooklyn Bridge and a homeless camp.
Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is solid and seamless without being particularly memorable. He’s most effective with the orphans and servants at Warbucks’ home. He’s also choreographed what is basically a gauntlet of beggers as Warbucks and Annie go to the movies singing “N.Y.C.”
While Crawford is excellent, as is usually the case with “Annie,” a younger orphan often steals your heart. In this show, that would be Emily Rosenfeld as Molly, who is cuter than a dump truck of plush teddy bears.
If gritty, tap-dancing orphans running from police and tweaking the highest of authority figures in a grim lower Manhattan sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. The pretty great “Newsies” has all that, too.
But “Annie” has something that all New Yorkers can hum after Superstorm Sandy: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow/bet your bottom dollar/that tomorrow there’ll be sun!”
New York can always use a dose of optimism. Considering current events, that goes double now.
In that sense, the enjoyable new production of “Annie” at the Palace Theatre arrives on cue.
Since 1977, when the show won seven Tonys, this well-built, feel-good family musical has trumpeted the power of resilience.
Stuck in “a day that’s gray and lonely? The sun’ll come out tomorrow.”
Drawn from Harold Gray’s beloved comic strip, the show, which has been made into big- and small-screen movies, is a classic rags-to-riches story.
It follows Annie from a Depression-era orphanage to life with billionaire businessman (and big softy at heart) Daddy Warbucks. Along the way, she inspires FDR’s “New Deal for Christmas” for down-and-out Americans. Go, Annie!
Eleven-year-old Lilla Crawford makes a feisty Annie and earns points for speaking and singing with a New Yawk accent. In her big solo “Tomorrow,” she channels Ethel Merman and shows off a belt as big and wide as a city bridge.
Veteran Broadway director James Lapine darkens a few moments to convey the gravity of hard times in Hooverville, but otherwise delivers a standard production.
He lets the book and songs speak for themselves and relies on choreography — sometimes a little too flashy — by Andy Blankenbuehler to keep the musical in motion.
If this take seldom crosses the line into something must-see special (it doesn’t), even a simply good production of “Annie” offers rewards.
Thomas Meehan’s book is funny and touching. Songs by Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) offer nearly wall-to-wall ear-ticklers. “Easy Street” and the chipper “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” will have you humming. “You’ve Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” sparkles with enough wit to make you grin.
As Annie’s nemesis, the boozy orphanage director Miss Hannigan, Katie Finneran slurs and slumps, as she did in her Tony-winning turn in “Promises, Promises.” Effortlessly hilarious there, she works very hard as Hannigan. It shows and the role shrinks as a result.
Australian theater star Anthony Warlow brings easygoing sweetness to his acting and singing as a moneybags who learns there’s more to life than cold cash.
Lending solid support are Clarke Thorell and J. Elaine Marcos as the ruthless Rooster and Lily. In the talented bunch of orphan girls, Emily Rosenfeld plays the tiniest tot and steals scenes with outsize bravado. She’s like Honey Boo Boo — but with talent. Sunny, the dog, is adorable as Annie’s four-legged best pal.
David Korins’ fine scenic design takes the story from rundown tenement and mean streets to glamorous uptown mansion. In other words, from today to tomorrow.
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.
That’s the sound that emerges from the throats of hundreds when an actress named Sunny first walks across the stage of the Palace Theater. Broadway has long been familiar with the phenomenon of entrance applause, but the entrance “awww” is rare.
Still, if any show seems guaranteed to elicit that response, it is “Annie,” the 1977 musical that opened on Thursday night in a serviceable revival. It would be churlish to begrudge all that “awww”-ing for the fetching Sunny, who has bravely taken on both a male role and a part whose name would seem to be anathema to New Yorkers at this moment.
Sunny, who has four legs, plays the role of Sandy. Not Sandy the evil hurricane, of course, but Sandy the dog, a creature both docile and heroic. The chorus of approval that greeted this Sandy was succeeded by the voice of a toddler in the audience, cooing the words, “A pup-py.” And everybody went “awww” all over again, before Sunny was taken into the arms of an equally fetching little girl who then delivered a tuneful anthem of optimism.
At such moments, the constant theatergoer may feel one of two different, equally strong urges: to mist up or throw up. I am not exactly proud to say that I misted up, but I’m not ashamed, either.
It has been, after all, a dark and confusing period in storm-struck, waterlogged New York, and it is reassuring to be in the company of a Sandy you want to cuddle instead of flee. And to listen to a runaway orphan (played by the gleamingly confident Lilla Crawford), who battles the Great Depression blues by singing loudly to herself that things will get better real soon — and in an honest-to-gosh New Yawk accent, to boot.
Say what you will about the current version of “Annie,” which is directed with a slightly tremulous hand by James Lapine and features the virtuosic Katie Finneran as the villainous Miss Hannigan, you can’t fault the timing of its return to Broadway. When this singing adaptation of the venerable comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” originally opened 35 years ago, New York was a shabby and embattled city, reeling from the threat of bankruptcy.
As directed by its lyricist, Martin Charnin — with a book by Thomas Meehan and music by Charles Strouse — “Annie” dared to be a smiley-faced, old-fashioned love song to a city’s gumption and resilience. That production won a slew of Tonys and went on to figure prominently in the image-rehabilitating “I Love New York” ad campaign that began the same year.
Now, as the city recovers from the crippling onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, and the country wrestles with financial woes not so unlike those of the Great Depression, here comes “Annie” once again, encouraging us to stick out our chins and grin.
Of course, Annie has been around the block many times since she first chirped that advice in the deathlessly cheerful song “Tomorrow.” There was the lumbering 1982 movie version, a couple of misfired sequels, a little-loved 1997 revival and too many school and community theater productions to count. Heck, even the dewiest, pluckiest ingénue would have a hard time staying fresh once she became an endlessly re-marketable brand name.
That’s the challenge faced by Mr. Lapine and company, and it is met a tad uneasily. Mr. Lapine is best known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim (“Sunday in the Park With George,” “Passion”), a composer whose brooding musicals are as introspective and idiosyncratic as “Annie” is extroverted and generic.
It would seem that Mr. Lapine is hoping to introduce at least a tincture of psychological shading to a show that is only, and unapologetically, a singing comic strip. In its first incarnation “Annie” was an unstoppable sunshine steamroller. This version, which flirts with shadows, moves more shakily.
The show’s scenic design (by David Korins), which relies largely on two-dimensional cutouts, and choreography (by Andy Blankenbuehler) can come across as sketchy and unfocused. The dance routines and visual jokes are sometimes presented hesitantly and register only peripherally. And adults in the audience may occasionally feel unsettled by some of the reimagined characterizations on display.
The show’s comic center has always been Miss Hannigan, the hard-drinking, little-girl-hating head of the orphanage where Annie, when the show begins, has lived for all of her 11 years. In 1977 Miss Hannigan was portrayed by Dorothy Loudon as a juicy gargoyle, with equal parts Dickensian villainy and showbiz oomph.
Ms. Finneran, a two-time Tony winner, takes a more humanizing approach. Like the scene-stealing singles-barfly she played in the 2010 revival of “Promises, Promises,” her Ms. Hannigan is a lonely lush who really just wants to land a fella.
When her no-good brother, Rooster (a very good Clarke Thorell), proposes a scheme to swindle Oliver Warbucks and make Annie “disappear,” you detect glimmers of a conscience beneath her snarling exterior. When she performs her big solo, “Little Girls,” with a possessed, mesmerizing loopiness, it feels less like a declaration of war than like a private nervous breakdown. You don’t feel like hissing this Miss Hannigan, which adds an addling ambivalence to the show. (The supporting cast — which includes Brynn O’Malley as Warbucks’s secretary, and J. Elaine Marcos as Rooster’s unlikely accomplice — generally seem rather grumpy.)
As Warbucks, the tycoon who takes Annie in for Christmas as part of a public relations campaign but soon falls for the irresistible tyke, Anthony Warlow also ventures into naturalism, inflecting his songs with unexpected emotional variety. But once you start to think of Warbucks as a real person, his blossoming love for little Annie can register as a bit creepy in the age of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Still, evil-thinking grown-ups are not this show’s target audience. Little girls are, at least judging by the crowd with which I saw the show (and by the Annie dresses being sold in the lobby). And they have some lively (if occasionally incomprehensible) alter egos to root for in the young actresses playing Miss Hannigan’s orphans.
The delicate-featured but indefatigable Ms. Crawford, who is possessed of both a golden glow and a voice of brass, is pretty close to perfect in the title role. If only she had more stage time with Sunny, the performer people couldn’t stop talking about at intermission.
The management has wisely augmented Sunny’s presence by having the preshow announcements delivered in barks (translated by a human voice). After all, you can’t go broke overestimating the importance of the “awww” factor.
When a little orphan hit machine named "Annie" opened in 1977, Americans living in shacks seemed positively Dickensian. Nobody had said anything about federal works projects for decades, much less offered a big wet kiss for the New Deal and sang about it in a sunny musical comedy.
Thirty-five years, one short-lived 1997 revival and a gazillion school productions later, the Depression-era story returns with a sober opening newsreel about breadlines and closed factories. But fear not: When meanie Miss Hannigan swoops down on the girls in the city orphanage to infamously ask, "Did I hear happiness in here?," the answer is still yes, definitely yes.
For all the freight of timeliness, this remains a sweet spot of a family musical, full of adorable, but not sticky-adorable, waifs punching the air with their teeny fists and belting "Tomorrow" over and over until every cynic within earshot might be a believer.
Director James Lapine's handsome yet lovable vision finds the emotional core without losing the cartoon magic. There is a modesty, a humanity within the spectacle that helps the too-large theater feel embracing. (Not embracing, alas, is the muddy sound system.)
As Annie, Lilla Crawford has a self-possessed intelligence -- we'd call it gravitas if that sounded more like fun. She also has lungs to match her big presence, and a cool coiffeur that says Bernadette Peters more than a tot in an orange fright wig. I'll hear no negative words about Katie Finneran, who, unlike her much-admired campier predecessors, makes Miss Hannigan both a cruel clown and a genuinely erotic creature whose thwarted ambitions seem just the slightest bit sad.
Thomas Meehan's book has its simplicity, heart and sly wit intact. The jaunty music by Charles Strouse and knowing lyrics by Martin Charnin remind us about the deceptive charms of "Easy Street" and unrepentant charms of "Little Girls."
Those girls are streetwise but still kids who use the littlest ones as floor mops. Anthony Warlow makes an empathetic Daddy Warbucks, Brynn O'Malley has smarts as his assistant, and Clarke Thorell and J. Elaine Marcos are properly nefarious con artists. David Korins' sets change scenes in the mansion as if turning pages in a handsome book. Not incidentally, Sandy is played by a pooch named Sunny, whose resistance to show-biz cliche is its own special brilliance.
Super-storm Sandy, make way for super-pooch Sandy, and his indomitable human companion.
A 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.
The 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.
But in 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.
The 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.
"Annie" returns to Broadway for the first time in 15 years in a handsome if somewhat checkered new production that's nevertheless superior to the redheaded orphan's previous two visits to Gotham. Credit director James Lapine and his design team for reviving what had grown to look tired in prior stagings of the 1977 hit. The biggest plus is Broadway newcomer Anthony Warlow's strong take on Daddy Warbucks, but the casting is problematic in the other main roles. Overall results suggest a family crowdpleaser, at least until the potential competition when the little-girl-centric Brit hit "Matilda" comes to town in the spring.
Warlow, an Aussie best known for his performances in Down Under productions of "Les Miserables" and "The Phantom of the Opera," ably combines comedy and warmth as he falls under the title moppet's spell. He starts off with a rousing rendition of "N.Y.C." and is especially touching in his waltz solo, "Something Was Missing."
The main gamble is filling the role of villainous orphanage proprietrix Miss Hannigan with Katie Finneran, the inveterate scene-stealer who won Tonys in revivals of "Promises, Promises" and "Noises Off." She displays similar comedic chops here, but her relatively young appearance and decidedly good looks work against her. Miss Hannigan should be driven by end-of-the-line, back-up-against-the-wall desperation; Finneran looks and acts like a hard-working veteran of a skid-row cathouse, all the while comporting herself as though auditioning for Minsky's.
Lilla Crawford, this year's Annie, is more than adequate but doesn't provide the energetic spirit that many of her predecessors did. She sings loudly, certainly, and can hold the stage. What's missing is a direct rapport with the audience; if one were to pick two of the orphans onstage to invite to Thanksgiving dinner, this Annie likely wouldn't make the cut. Crawford is not helped by the strong New Yawk accent she's saddled with, sometimes making her unintelligible.
The other little girls -- led by Emily Rosenfeld as the scene-stealing Molly -- perform admirably, building their rendition of "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" into one of the highlights. Strong support is also offered by Brynn O'Malley as Warbuck's loyal secretary (and Annie's ally), Grace Farrell; Joel Hatch offering a friendly and humorous presence as the butler Drake; and Ashley Blanchet as the Star to Be, belting her big solo in "N.Y.C." to the rafters.
Lapine does a good job of bringing out the comedy in Tom Meehan's script, but he is not helped by his choreographer. Andy Blankenbuehler has an artistic approach -- his hobo dancers are given individual suffering poses, in silhouette -- but "Annie" cries out for musical-comedy hoofing. Charles Strouse's music, with Todd Ellison conducting new orchestrations by Michael Starobin, sounds fine here. The design team merits special notice, with sparklingly imaginative scenery by David Korins effectively lit by Donald Holder.
Set among the Hoovervilles of the Depression in 1933, "Annie" has sudden relevance in a metropolis recovering from a disastrously devastating storm, with present-day residents roaming the streets looking for food, fuel and shelter. The only difference is that at the Palace, Sandy (Annie's dog, as played by canine actor Sunny) gets cheers.