Broadway's 'Annie': A hit from yesterday, for today and 'Tomorrow'

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A mark of a true hit is even if you have not seen it, you know it.  The signature songs, the story, the look.

"Annie," at Broadway's Palace Theatre, is in that rarified genre. And there is good reason.

The musical is tremendous fun.

It is also a perfect introduction to Broadway, and it was clear from the reactions of some of the younger members of the audience that a lifetime of going to the theater was starting with this show.

As one of the few theater hounds who had not seen a previous version -- this is the second revival since the 1977 hit -- I can't compare to it anything. And shouldn't. What is on stage is what is important.

Lilla Crawford (Broadway's "Billy Elliot," TV's "Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards") is winning in the title role. Anthony Warlow, in his Broadway debut, is excellent as Oliver Warbucks. But the show belongs to Katie Finneran, who owns by dint of stealing every scene she is in.
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Finneran, who won Tonys for "Promises, Promises" and "Noises Off," and was in the unfortunate FOX sitcom "I Hate My Teenage Daughter," is Miss Hannigan. I can't wait until Finneran is old enough to play Mama in "Gypsy" because she is one of those larger-than-life actresses who doesn't so much come onto the stage but consume it. You must go along for the ride; truly it is worth it.

The story is so familiar to many, but for those who don't know it: Annie is an 11-year-old orphan during the Depression. It's Christmas 1933 and Annie lives with a bunch of other foundlings in a New York orphanage run by the drunken, loud and lonely Miss Hannigan.

Annie clings to the hopes that her parents, who left her there when she was a baby, will return and claim her. Warbucks, a gruff self-made billionaire industrialist, lives among his huge staff in a mansion. His wise assistant, Grace (Brynn O'Malley, Broadway's "Wicked," TV's "Smash"), liberates Annie from the orphanage for two weeks during Christmas.

Warbucks' advisers recommend he soften his image by taking in an orphan during Christmas. Of course, Warbucks is enchanted by Annie and wants to adopt her, but she holds out hope that her parents will retrieve her.

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Proving that he has a good heart, he enlists his pals including J. Edgar Hoover and President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help find her parents and offers $50,000 to sweeten the deal. This would bring out the con artists today but at a time when 40 percent of Americans had no visible means of support and $50,000 was a fortune, scammers are inspired to new lows.

Throughout, Annie is sunny but not nauseatingly so. Crawford does a fine job of playing the iconic character, and holds her own with Finneran and Warlow. Dennis Stowe, who plays a few smaller roles, notably the police officer, should be singled out for his great work. 

The sets are phenomenal, especially Warbucks' mansion.

The one part of this show that is a curious choice, though, is director James Lapine having Annie and the other girls speak aggressive Brooklyn-ese. Miss Hannigan brays Brooklyn, too, but it's the orphans who were schooled in the finer arts of diction by the Bowery Boys.

When Annie sings the signature number, "Tomorrow," she belts, "the sun will come out to-murrah!" One expects her to chomp on the stub of a cigar with that accent. I get it; she's an urchin from Brooklyn during the Depression, but the accent gets in the way.

The orphan girls are all terrific and Sandy (played by Sunny the rescue dog) is, of course, adorable, even if she yawns during "Tomorrow." She did howl during the finale.
Photo/Video credit: Joan Marcus
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