Since Annie opened on Broadway in 1977 it has become, in no particular order, a staple of community theaters, a merchandising bonanza, a feature film, a made-for-TV movie and a cultural touchstone for countless little girls—with and without show biz aspirations, with and without the chops to nail that high F at the end of the Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin anthem “Tomorrow.”
Previously revived on Broadway in 1997, Annie, the very model of a first-rate second-rate musical, is back for another go. Proving once again that timing is everything, this new gritty-shiny revival is something more than an object of desire for pre-adolescent divas; it’s a fable for our era, the embrace of the 47 percent by the 1 percent (and vice versa).
The former is embodied by the title character, a plucky young ward of the state, the latter by industrialist and power broker Oliver Warbucks, who isn’t a millionaire, as several characters note; he’s a billionaire. This being the Depression, we’re talking real money here.
In case you’ve either somehow skipped being nine yourself or never met a nine-year-old with the patience to enlighten you, here’s a quick plot summary. Annie (Lilla Crawford) lives in an orphanage presided over by an alcoholic harridan of a matron, one Miss Hannigan (Katie Finneran), but she determinedly sets herself apart from the other little girls in residence. She stoutly believes her parents are still alive and will someday show up to reclaim her.
Meanwhile, in another far classier part of Manhattan, Warbucks (the very good Anthony Warlow), eager to improve his image as a soulless oligarch, dispatches his efficient secretary (Brynn O’Malley) to recruit an orphan to spend the Christmas holidays at his mansion. Here’s the pool. There’s the tennis court. Annie, get your fun.
Wonder of wonders, the bottom-of-the-heap castoff and the bottom-line guy bond like nobody’s business, so much so that Warbucks decides to adopt her. Cue the complications.
James Lapine’s brisk, uncluttered directing goes far toward papering over Annie’s comic strip origins and the never more than dutiful unfolding of the plot. The script’s unwittingly timely jokes about Democrats and Republicans are terrifically helpful.
But whether it’s a problem traceable to librettist Thomas Meehan or to young Crawford, the fact remains that it never seems clear just what Warbucks sees in Annie, what makes him want to rearrange his life for her. And it really is a problem because the supposed connection between the two is the only thing that passes for a relationship in Annie, one of very few musicals without a romance. Perhaps, he’s unaccountably charmed by the Noo Yawk accent that makes Annie seem like one of the Dead End Kids.
In Finneran’s “Look Ma, I’m Acting,” Miss Hannigan is a more slatternly version of her Tony Award-winning turn as a barfly. A big shout-out to the orphans, fresh and charming the whole lot of them. Ordinarily, they’d have some serious competition from Annie’s usually omnipresent canine sidekick Sandy. But except for a brief appearance in the first act, he’s a no-show in this production, his part chewed to bits.
Rest assured, the ASPCA is going to hear about this.