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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Palace


  Anthony Warlow and Lilla Crawford/ Ph: Joan Marcus

How would you like to see an absolutely irresistible musical comedy about a smart and spunky young girl who outwits a tyrannical, child-hating female power figure and is eventually adopted by a very caring adult?

No, I’m not talking about Annie, though I’ll get to that soon enough. The musical you want to see is Matilda, which opened in London last year to rave reviews and will premiere on Broadway in a few months. You might also consider the Disney musical Newsies, which is also about youngsters who band together to beat the system while singing incredibly catchy anthems.

As for Annie – one of the most heartwarming and universally beloved musicals of all time, which contains a wonderful score by composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin, and a funny but character-focused book by Thomas Meehan – it has been all but butchered by James Lapine, a director best known for his artistically edgy collaborations with Stephen Sondheim and William Finn, in his utterly charmless and misconceived new Broadway revival.

Lapine is hardly a bad director. Rather, the co-creative force behind Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and Falsettos is simply the wrong choice for Annie. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just the truth. And blame for this painfully disappointing revival lies with the producers who inexplicably hired him in the first place. Seriously, were Kathleen Marshall, Jerry Zaks and Casey Nicholaw all somehow busy? Or would it have been so terrible to recycle or perhaps revise Charnin’s original staging, which included Peter Gennaro’s showstopper choreography?

Lapine hasn’t even darkened the show’s optimistic tone, as one might have feared. Instead, his production is just devoid of purpose or charm. At a time when New Yorkers could really use a feel-good musical, this Annie can barely even entertain.

The problems start from the very beginning, when the show’s classic overture is cut in half to make room for a dorky newsreel clip about the Great Depression. (Is it now assumed that people no longer remember the 1930s?) The scenic design, intended to represent the turning pages of a fairytale book, is very ugly. Andy Blankenbuehler’s forceful and irregular choreography is completely inappropriate.  

Eleven-year-old Lilla Crawford has a strong presence, but is strangely encouraged to use a thick Brooklyn accent and far too much vibrato.

Two-time Tony winner Katie Finneran, who recently made a splash in Promises, Promises, delivers a disappointingly hollow performance as Miss Hannigan consisting entirely of over-the-top shtick.

Anthony Warlow, a well-known Australian stage actor making his Broadway debut, is especially convincing as the gruff but tenderhearted Daddy Warbucks. As Warbucks’ secretary Grace, Brynn O’Malley more or less fades into the wallpaper.

As I write this review, I am watching a DVD of the quite excellent 1999 made-for-television film version with Kathy Bates, Audra McDonald and Victor Garber. When done right, Annie can make anyone fall for its sentimental optimism. However, this lukewarm and unnecessary revival is unlikely to win any converts.

If there’s anything to learn from this disappointing production, it’s to keep Lapine far away from The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast and Peter Pan


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