If you ask me…
– Tom Holehan
“Annie” in Revival in Westchester
She’s back! “Annie”, the beloved Tony-winning musical from 1977 (can it really be that long ago?) is back onstage at the Westchester Broadway Theatre for an extended stay throughout the summer. Far from a definitive production of this enduring classic, it’s still always a pleasure to revisit this delightful family musical.
Based on the popular comic strip, the musical “Annie”, with book by Thomas Meehan and score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, had a healthy 6-year run on Broadway winning seven Tony Awards including “Best Musical”. It’s the “origin story” of the red-haired heroine (Peyton Ella) who escapes a Dickensian orphanage run by the demented Miss Hannigan (Susan Fletcher) only to end up as a Christmas guest of billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Michael DeVries). In the meantime, Hannigan’s con-artist brother, Rooster (Adam Roberts, terrific) and his dimwitted moll, Lily (Aubrey Sinn), hatch a scheme to pass as Annie’s parents in order to collect a reward offered by Warbucks.
It’s probably a tad obvious to point out that any successful production of “Annie” does rest primarily on the performance and appeal of the young actor playing the title character. At Westchester, Miss Ella knows all her lines and belts out songs so they reach the back row. She looks like she’s been rehearsing for this role all her young life, but what’s missing is any genuine feeling for the part. It was all rather mechanical at the early performance I caught and one hopes that Ella learns to eventually relax into the role. The moment when Annie finally acknowledges Warbucks as “Daddy”, for example, should really mean something to her. Currently, it’s almost delivered as a throw-away line.
Luckily some of the adult roles are very well executed. Mr. DeVries is all alpha male as Warbucks who melts easily into Annie’s charms once she pays a visit. His nicely nuanced performance of the ballad, “Something Was Missing”, is especially memorable. Mr. Roberts enters the proceedings late as Rooster and you suddenly realize that his jolt of personal energy has raised the rest of the cast along with him. This includes the plum role of Miss Hannigan, originally played on Broadway by the legendary Dorothy Loudin. There’s a danger in overplaying the role (watch the dreadful 1982 film version to see Carol Burnett decimate the part if you don’t believe me) and Fletcher runs into some problems here hammering all the jokes too hard instead of just trusting the material. When she joins Roberts and Miss Sinn for the rousing “Easy Street”, however, there’s absolute electricity on the stage with Roberts leading this trio into a smashing show-stopper.
Michael Bottari and Ronald case’s set, Andrew Gmoser’s lighting and especially Suzy Benzinger’s costumes all contribute to the eventual success of the show. Mary Jane Houdina has ably directed and choreographed the revival and its glorious score, which includes “NYC”, “Together at Last”, “Maybe”, “It’s A Hard-knock Life” and, of course, “Tomorrow”, is still great to hear under most any circumstance. You begin to realize there are few musicals today that have so many hummable songs. Bring your kids to Westchester and sing along.
“Annie” continues at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, New York through September 10. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 914.592.2225 or visit: www.broadwaytheatre.com.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com.