“Annie” opened on Broadway 33 years ago this April. It became a huge hit, won seven Tony awards (including Best Musical), was made into a movie (1982), and has never really been out of circulation. I was fortunate enough to see the original cast in 1977 (as a tiny child, of course) with Andrea McArdle as Annie and Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan, both giving legendary performances (the late Ms. Loudon won a Best Actress Tony).
“Annie,” in case you didn’t know, is a musical based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip series; the national company is in residence at the Fox Theatre through Sunday, Jan. 17; the show is presented in Atlanta by The Theatre of the Stars. If I had a quarter for every little girl who ever dreamed of playing Annie, I’d be rich indeed. There were a quite a few of them in the restaurant near the Fox where I had dinner before the show. They’re easy to spot; they are dressed to the nines and have stars in their eyes. Inside the Fox, the Annie wannabes (or just fans) were legion; they create a fun ambience so that everyone in the house, adults included, are true believers by the moment the overture begins.
This is fortunate, because on opening night there were a few technical problems with the sound still being ironed out. It didn’t take long, however, and clear, powerful sound soon reigned—almost overpowering, actually, because this is a cast full of belters. In fact, everyone—children, women, men—soon sounded a bit like Patti LuPone—a most strange phenomenon.
You probably know the story: It’s 1933, the Great Depression is on, and Annie (Madison Kerth) is an 11-year-old in an orphanage for girls run by Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews), a disillusioned villainess who hates children and has a fondness for drink. Annie is an eternal optimist, convinced that the parents who abandoned her years ago will turn up. It could happen, “Maybe,” which is her first song, and perhaps the show’s loveliest, more wistful and delicate than “Annie’s” signature number, “Tomorrow.” Incidentally, the girls are wonderful in the rousing “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.”
The world’s richest man is Oliver Warbucks (David Barton), and he has decided to have his secretary (Traci Bair) find an orphan who will spend the Christmas holiday in his 5th Avenue mansion. Meanwhile, Miss Hannigan’s no-good brother Rooster (Zander Meisner) and his companion Lily St. Regis (Cheryl Hoffmann) show up and all three are soon dreaming of “Easy Street,” a genuine showstopper. Thomas Meehan wrote the book; music, Charles Strouse; lyrics, Martin Charnin.
This cast is excellent, although Annie and Daddy Warbucks don’t have a great deal of chemistry; on the other hand, chemistry and intimacy are hard to project in a 4000-seat theatre, as has been noted here before. This incarnation of “Annie” will very likely please its die-hard fans but may not win many new ones. But if you go, “You Won’t Be an Orphan for Long”; “Annie” has many very loyal friends.