The Peaches and Cream Musical Annie Returns to San Francisco
I have seen many Annies, starting with Andrea McArdle at the Alvin Theatre in the summer of 1977. The musical took several Tonys that year, including one for Best Musical, and moved from theatre to theatre in Manhattan for an amazing 2377 performances. I saw several touring companies on the west coast as well as the 1997 revival with Brittny Kissinger taking the title role (Sutton Foster was a member of that cast). I watched the film being made at Columbia for several days and saw a British cast perform the musical at the Victoria Palace in 1998.
Annie has been performed by many regional companies over the years and it has always been a cash cow. When a company presents the peaches and cream musical during the Christmas season, itís a money maker. The current touring production is under the auspices of NETworks Presentations, LLC and TC Theatrical and started in Seattle last month. It will travel around the country as "America's favorite family musical."
You all remember the story about he little orphan Annie (Marissa O'Donnell), who had loveable hope in her heart for her parents to come and rescue her from the evil orphanage run by the evil Miss Hannigan (Alene Robertson). Annie escapes and meets Sandy (Lola) the stray dog and is adopted for Christmas by kind Daddy Warbucks (Conrad John Schuck), a billionaire and a Republican. During the long production we have a bevy of cutesy children, one animal, brief scenes of the Great Depression of the '30s, and Franklin D. Roosevelt starting the New Deal.
Director Martin Charnin seems to have cut down the dance numbers in this touring version. When Annie comes into the large mansion of billionaire Daddy Warbucks, there is more movement of the servants than dancing. The "N.Y.C" number that concludes in Times Square is a shoddy imitation of the opening scene of Guys and Dolls. The dancers just seem to be jumping around trying to act out various little vignettes. Even the sets by Ming Cho Lee have a certain shabbiness about them, with the exception of the last scene when Annie descends the steps of the mansion dressed in her famous red outfit.
Marissa O'Donnell (Off Broadway American Girls Revue, Miracles on 34th Street) is very good, with a powerhouse voice. She offers a perceptive and thoughtful "Maybe" and she has great vocal pipes on "Tomorrow." Her performance is engaging and she seems to have a lot of street smarts for a little girl. Conrad John Schuck (best known as Sgt. Enright from TV's "McMillan and Wife" and ex-ACT actor) seems to have found his calling as Daddy Warbucks. He has been doing the role off and on since 1999. Schuck is not quite up to the vocal demands, but he makes a valiant try in the numbers "N.Y.C." and "I Don't Need Anything But You," in which he delightfully hams it up. Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin have written a new song for him: "Why Should I Change a Thing?" is a nice song but does not seem to be in line with the classic upbeat songs in the production. On the other side of the coin, Schuck is able to convey with a few words and actions a growing fatherly attachment to Annie.
Alene Robertson (nine time Jefferson Award recipient plus Broadway Annie and Annie Warbucks) makes a strange Miss Hannigan. She plays the evil head of the orphanage straight out of a Dickens novel. She has the deep voice of a man and hams it up on "Easy Street." She gives an over-the-top performance, a caricature of the character. Scott Willis (numerous productions on Broadway and National Tours) as Rooster and Mackenzie Phillips (Julie Cooper on "One Day at A Time") as Lily St. Regis are very un-funny in their roles. Even the great "Easy Street" has no real zing and becomes a silly dance made especially for the kids in the audience. Allan Baker (Noah in Charnin's new edition of Two by Two) is great as President Roosevelt. He has the wonderful inflection of F.D.R.'s voice down perfectly.
Annie has the required sweet little orphan girls who have good theatrical singing voices. Elizabeth Broadhurst (Two Gentlemen of Verona at Baltimore Stage) seems lost as Grace. She has little to do in this production and she does not get a chance to dance much.
Annie is a lightweight production but it will appeal to parents and kids who have never seen the show before; the kids and parents seemed to love the show on opening night. Annie continues its run at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco through September 25th. For tickets call Ticketmaster 415-512-7770, or ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster Center or online at www.shnsf.com.
Best of Broadway's coming attractions include the Walden Media Production of Holes at the Orpheum Theatre opening September 30, Irving Berlin's White Christmas opening at the Orpheum on November 9th, Rain, and the world premiere of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's Lestat at the Curran on December 17th.