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Could the timing be any better for a Broadway revival of Annie? The uplifting musical sells not only the archetypal rags-to-riches fantasy but promotes belief in the power of government to deliver us from economic hardship. At a time when many New Yorkers are still reclaiming their homes in the wake of October’s Atlantic superstorm, the show’s depiction of the city as a bastion of resilience amid Depression-era woes carries special resonance. Throw in an adorable mutt named Sandy, of all things, and you have a handy remedy for both election fatigue and hurricane hangover.
While it downplays the comic-strip origins, James Lapine’s production sensibly chooses not to reinvent the 1977 musical, which won seven Tony Awards and ran for close to six years its first time around. Returning to Broadway nearly three decades later, this enduring ode to optimism remains a sterling example of expert musical-theater craftsmanship. It has an engaging Dickensian book by Thomas Meehan and a string of infectious tunes by Charles Strouse with flavorful lyrics by Martin Charnin, their songs adopting a 1930s vernacular tailored to the story’s setting.
For some of us who experienced the show in its infancy, over-exposure gradually turned its sunny anthems to cloying treacle. By the time John Huston’s egregious 1982 screen version came along, every rousing chorus of “Tomorrow” was like fingernails on a blackboard to my ears. But somewhere between Kathleen Turner clubbing an Annie fan to death in Serial Mom and Jay-Z sampling “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” the show acquired the status of a beloved pop-cultural icon.
Hardcore fans might find it lacking in the property’s traditional brash vibrancy, but what makes this revival disarming is that it’s cute without being cutesy and sweet without being saccharine.
The heart of the show, as it should be, is 11-year-old actress Lilla Crawford’s Annie. She has the vocal chops to sock the songs across and the tough pragmatism to command a roomful of politicians without coming off as obnoxious. The scene in which she plants the seeds for the New Deal with FDR (Merwin Foard) and his jaded cabinet is a delight. Perhaps the most distinguishing element in this production, however, is Australian musical-theater and opera veteran Anthony Warlow’s Broadway debut as Daddy Warbucks. The actor has tremendous stage chemistry with Crawford, and his pristine baritone makes “Something Was Missing” an unexpectedly moving high point.
Venue: Palace Theatre, New York (Runs indefinitely)
Cast: Lilla Crawford, Anthony Warlow, Katie Finneran
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