Even if James Lapine’s revival of Annie proved to be charmless, visually ugly and altogether misconceived when it opened back in November, it did provide some welcome relief following the turmoil of Hurricane Sandy. After all, Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin’s musical is one of the most heartwarming and universally beloved musicals of all time. One can’t help but have a good time.
Six months later, while Annie is still playing (and occupying one of the most prominent theaters in Times Square), it has become all but overshadowed by Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Matilda, two other family-friendly musicals that are also about (and named after) a sweet young girl who overcomes a tyrannical figure of authority. While Matilda is new and Cinderella is significantly revamped, Annie is still Annie. And we’ve all seen better productions of it than the current revival.
But for what it’s worth, the revival has been rejuvenated for the summer thanks to one of the most inspired bits of celeb recasting in years. Jane Lynch, who has become a familiar figure to television audiences over the past four years as the thespian-hating, self-loving cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester on Glee, has taken over the role of the similarly villainous Miss Hannigan. This also marks her Broadway debut.
Katie Finneran, who played Miss Hannigan when the revival opened, originally seemed like an inspired choice – especially considering the worrisome early rumor that Rosie O’Donnell would be cast. But in spite of Finneran’s considerable comedic talent (she won Tony Awards for Noises Off and Promises Promises), she delivered a strangely hollow performance consisting mainly of desperate, over-the-top shtick.
Lynch succeeds in providing a boisterous, lively and impressively easygoing presence that helps offset the gloom of Lapine’s somber staging. Needless to say, she lands every single laugh. Her singing is a bit erratic, but that hardly matters. Any audience member, whether sitting in the orchestra or balcony, can feel how much she is enjoying herself. It was a wise decision to have her wear a period-style wig, which helps offset the impression that she is simply carrying over her Sue Sylvester persona.
On second viewing, one also gains an appreciation of Anthony Warlow’s gruff but heartfelt take on Oliver Warbucks. But in the title role, Lilla Crawford remains just as irritating as before with her unnecessary Brooklyn accent. And speaking of accents, why is Brynn O’Malley playing Grace Farrell as English?