[Note: The part of Miss Hannigan is now being played by Faith Prince, and Taylor Richardson and Sadie Sink alternate in the title role.]
Anyone who has ever been a child can find something to love in Annie. Just try to throw shade at the sunny optimism of the young heroine’s irrepressible “Tomorrow”; it shines brightly anyhow. Knock the little girls of Annie’s orphanage as hard as you like; they bounce back with spunk. Or carp if you must, from a different angle, that James Lapine’s revival is a shade too depressing for this Great Depression fairy tale. Be that as it may, I spent most of the show fully dressed in a smile.
Adapted from Harold Gray’s long-running comic strip, the musical spins a rags-to-riches fantasy about a parentless ragamuffin, Annie (Lilla Crawford), who is rescued from penury—and from her orphanage overlord, the boozy and abusive Miss Hannigan (Katie Finneran)—by an ultrarich industrialist named Oliver Warbucks (Anthony Warlow). Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s beloved score translates this story into musical-theater terms with tremendous verve and charm. Annie’s two solos, “Maybe” and “Tomorrow,” capture her longing and confidence with poigant simplicity, and nearly every other song connects solidly too. (Only the finales of each act, oddly, fall short.)
When Annie debuted on Broadway in 1977, it struck timely chords. America was in its deepest economic crisis since the 1930s, and the show mounted a spirited defense of social welfare; in Thomas Meehan’s canny script, Annie plays a pivotal role in inspiring FDR’s New Deal. But the musical has a patina of bipartisan spirit in its suggestion that government stimulus can work hand in hand with the kind of can-do individualism represented by both the plucky urchin and the self-made billionaire. Needless to say, we are ready for Annie again.
Lapine’s production is grimmer in tone than the original, with less Broadway gumption to balance out the squalor. This may be a necessary adjustment for our era, when audiences are wary of pluckiness, and the result is clean and uncloying. It is also, sometimes, a bit low on joy. Crawford is poised and well wrangled, but overamplification and a silly New York accent drain some of Annie’s brassy energy; the very talented Finneran has funny bits, but her slatternly, hungover take on Miss Hannigan could use a shot of gleeful sadism.
Yet Annie’s pleasures outweigh one’s quibbles. Warlow is a capital Warbucks, with an effortlessly rich voice and a welcome spark of song-and-dance warmth. The six girls who share the orphanage with Annie mop the floor with their numbers (and even, in the best twist of Andy Blankenbuehler’s bent choreography, with each other). And David Korins’s astute set evokes a skeletal world of slums, as well as the literally storybook grandeur of Warbucks’s Fifth Avenue mansion.
Toward the end of the musical, Annie gets the full Hello, Dolly! star treatment chez Warbucks: descending a staircase in a bright red dress, serenaded by happy servants. She may not sport her once-signature burst of high curls, but it’s nice to have her back where she belongs, recharging Broadway like a copper-topped battery of hope. Stick up your chin! And grin! “Tomorrow” never dies.—Adam Feldman
RECOMMENDED: Interview and video with Lilla Crawford and the cast of Annie
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam