A Non-Cloying Annie Brings a Bright Tomorrow to the Paramount
Also see David's review of Princesses
The story particulars are a sort of New York, Depression-era tweak on Oliver Twist, in which 11-year-old Annie, raised at a seedy Manhattan orphanage by the usually soused harridan Miss Hannigan, is still convinced that her parents, who left her as a foundling, will come back to claim her. After an aborted orphanage break which introduces her to Sandy the dog and further ticks off Hannigan, Annie is selected to spend two weeks at Christmas time with blustery billionaire Oliver (later known as Daddy) Warbucks, who is hardly the adoptive father type. But, in short order, Annie's positive spirit and exuberance have Warbucks wanting to adopt Annie, and no amount of slapstick skullduggery by Miss Hannigan, her con-man brother Rooster, or his bimbo girlfriend Lily St. Regis can break them up, especially after FDR gets in the mix and revitalizes his own cabinet and the country with some of Annie's optimism.
Casting the right Annie is pivotal, and in this production Charnin got the perfect little gal for the job. Marissa O'Donnell sings brightly and sweetly - never stridently blasting away like some Annies we've seen. Her chemistry with veteran Daddy Warbucks, Conrad John Shuck, is palpable. Shuck grows his character slowly and credibly from indifferent industrialist to proud Papa, and he still has the pipes to impress with his vocals, including a new act one solo in which Warbucks questions his ability to make room in his busy life for the deserving little redhead. Alene Robertson, who impressed in Strouse, Charnin and Meehan's lesser known follow-up show Annie Warbucks, knows the value of understatement, in playing a comedic gorgon like Miss Hannigan. Her "Little Girls" lament is cantankerously amusing and Robertson makes us feel some sympathy for this pathetic woman.
Elizabeth Broadhurst has a twinkle in her eyes and a lovely, warm soprano voice as Warbucks' smitten secretary Grace. Scott Willis has Rooster Hannigan's sleazy, showbizzy strut down pat, and as his cohort in romance and crime, former child star Mackenzie (One Day At A Time) Phillips doesn't overdo the gum-chewing floozy bit as Lily St. Regis, holding her own with Willis and the sublime Robertson in the crowd-pleasing "Easy Street" showstopper. Allan Baker wisely doesn't tip his FDR too far over into caricature, David Chernault is a subtle scene-stealer as Warbucks' butler Drake, and Monica L. Patton offers a standout vocal as the Star to Be in the "N.Y.C." production number.
The entire ensemble, adult and orphans alike, is sharp and energetic, and a tip of the hat to Seattle's own Harry Turpin who makes wonderful comic choices with his cameo role of uptight FDR cabinet member Harold Ickes in the big "Tomorrow" reprise.
Choreographer Liza Gennaro honors the blueprint of her Father Peter's Tony-winning original choreography without being slavishly faithful. The "N.Y.C." number has been expanded on a bit and shows a few of the seedier edges to Manhattan now, as it well should. And thank goodness this tour doesn't drop one of Strouse and Charnin's brightest and most cynical numbers, "We'd Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover," which gives the adult character ensemble its best chance to shine, and in which the Gennaro staging proves that stylized movement is often more effective than full-out choreography.
Ming Cho Lee's scenic design remains solid, even if the tighter budgets today mean less of the neat tricks, such as the tacks that moved actors back and forth onstage in the original's production numbers. Theoni V. Aldredge's costume designs are as effective and appropriate as ever, and Ken Billington's lighting design is, as usual, effortlessly excellent. One caveat: at the performance reviewed, the show clocked in at nearly three hours including intermission, and while it never felt that long to this audience member, a number of the under ten set in the audience grew antsy. The additional Daddy Warbucks solo "Why Should I Change a Thing?" included in this staging of the show is a solid Strouse/Charnin ballad, well sung by Shuck, but it wouldn't be missed, and a shortened overture (again I loved it, but ...) would also help.
But the willing standing O at the end of this Annie shows that, like her older counterpart Dolly Levi, this little orphan will never go away again, as long as the production is as good as this one.
Annie runs at the Paramount, 9th and Pine in downtown Seattle, through August 27, before moving on to San Francisco and many other U.S. cities. For more information go online at www.theparamount.com.