By Charles Strouse (music), Martin Charnin (lyrics)
Old classic still charms and delights
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Annie will never die. Like it or not (and you can find people squarely on either side of the fence), this swelling musical promoting eternal optimism in the darkest of times – thanks to one scrappy little Titian-haired orphan – will always sell tickets. Unlike many of my friends, I never performed in Annie as a child, though the 1982 film was my first movie; “Tomorrow” the first song I learned by heart. As an adult, I fall into the “enjoyable nostalgia” camp. I don’t seek out Annie, but I can have a fun time reminiscing as I view it. The latest national tour, directed by the musical’s lyricist Martin Charnin for the 19th time, feels a bit stale at times but show-stealing performances and lovable old tunes provoked enjoyable nostalgia in me once again.
Set in the 1933 Christmas season, with the Depression at its lowest point and the New Deal not yet done, Annie follows the titular orphan (Issie Swickle) as she attempts to break out of the clutches of evil Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews). A chance encounter with elegant Grace Farrell (Ashley Edler) leads Annie to the mansion of billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett) for two weeks of holiday fun. The blustery but kind Warbucks finds himself besotted by the spunky little girl and agrees to help her find the parents who left her at the orphanage as a baby. However, Miss Hannigan, her sleazy brother Rooster (Garrett Deagon) and his moll Lily St. Regis (Lucy Werner) have other ideas – involving the generous reward Warbucks has offered for anyone who can claim to be Annie’s mother and father.
Those only familiar with the 1982 movie will notice some differences in the stage show. It has a slightly more political bent, focusing not only on the New Deal but the homeless individuals cursing Herbert Hoover for their destitute state. (With an all-star cast including Albert Finney, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters and Carol Burnett, the 1982 film concentrated more on the principal characters.) The stage version of Annie includes songs not made famous in the film: some catchy and memorable (the mid-Act I production number “N.Y.C.,” featuring a beautiful solo from ensemble member Hannah Slabaugh) and some that should really be cut by now (there’s a song called “Annie,” and it is draggy and terrible). Of course, “It’s the Hard Knock Life” rails against child labor, “Maybe” tugs at heartstrings, and “Tomorrow” – well, there’s a reason it’s still belted by little girls everywhere.
Charnin’s direction leaves a little to be desired: one can tell it’s his umpteenth time at the rodeo from the mainly uninspired staging, and the decision to have Annie speak with a New York accent (…that fades by Act I Scene 2) is questionable at best. Liza Gennaro’s choreography, adapted from the original dances of her father Peter Gennaro, is well-executed but at times reeks of middle school show choir, even where adults are concerned. (“Easy Street” is the notable exception.) And as Annie, Swickle tries hard but fails to hold some of her longer notes, and doesn’t really engage with other actors unless she is speaking or singing at that very moment.
However, this Annie contains some wonderful performances. Taggett is a tough but sweet Warbucks, and Edler brings the sparkling stylishness to Grace that is reminiscent of Reinking. The adult chorus dives into its multiple roles as Hooverville residents, Warbucks’ domestic staff, radio folk and politicos with enthusiastic aplomb. Though they get a little screechy, the orphans are a winning group, particularly Adia Dant as brutish Pepper, Angelina Carballo as sassy July and Lilly Mae Stewart as Molly, the youngest of the gang. Werner’s Lily is hilariously adorable, Deagon’s Rooster convincingly slimy. But the real standout is Andrews as Miss Hannigan. Whether she’s berating orphans while swilling from a bottle, hootchy-kootchy-ing in “Easy Street,” or complaining about her job in the fantastic solo “Little Girls,” Andrews chews the painted scenery and is a pitch-perfect comic villain.
When the lights went up at intermission, my sister and I heard a squeaky little “that was awesome!” from a few rows in front of us. We couldn’t see the young theatergoer, but our hearts grew about three sizes in that moment. Thanks to an old-timey but solid Annie, we remembered our own early experiences onstage and off, and were glad to see that the play can still draw a crowd of Ethel Mermans in the making.
Annie continues through November 30th at Cadillac Palace Theatre, , 151 W. Randolph (map).. Tickets are $25-$105, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information and a complete performance schedule at BroadwayinChicago.com. (Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Joan Marcus
Issie Swickle (Annie), Lilly Mae Stewart (Molly), Adia Dant (Pepper), Isabel Wallach (Duffy), Angelina Carballo (July), Lillybea Ireland (Tessie), Sydney Shuck (Kate), Lynn Andrews (Miss Hannigan), Brian Cowing (Bundles, Assistant Dog Catcher, Fred McCracken, Howe), John Cormier (Apple Seller, Sound Effects Man, Ickes), Cameron Mitchell Bell (Dog Catcher, Eddie, Bert Healy, Morganthau), Macy (Stray Dog), Sunny (Sandy), Jake Mills (Lt. Ward, Hull, Judge Brandeis), Amy Burgmaier (Sophie the Kettle, Mrs. Pugh, Mrs. Perkins), Ashley Edler (Grace Farrell), Todd Fenstermaker (Drake, Jimmy Johnson), Lily Emilia Smith (Mrs. Greer, Bonnie Boylan), Meghan Seaman (Cecile, Connie Boylan), Hannah Slabaugh (Annette, Star to Be, Ronnie Boylan), Gilgamesh Taggett (Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks), Garrett Deagon (Rooster Hannigan), Lucy Werner (Lily St. Regis), Allan Baker (F.D.R.), Amy Burgmaier, Cameron Mitchell Bell, John Cormier, Brian Cowing, Todd Fenstermaker, Jake Mills, Meghan Seaman, Hannah Slabaugh, Lily Emilia Smith (ensemble)
behind the scenes
Martin Charnin (director, lyricist), Liza Gennaro (choreographer), William Berloni (animal trainer), Donavan Dolan (production stage manager), Sara Jane Baldwin (company member), Beowulf Boritt (scenic design), Suzy Benzinger (costume design), Ken Billington (lighting design), Peter Hylenski (sound design), Campbell Young Associates (hair, wigs & makeup design), Keith Levenson (music supervisor, music director, additional orchestrations), Townsend Teague (general manager), Ryan P. Murphy (production manager), Troika Entertainment (producers), Joan Marcus (photos)