No one who knew me when I was a kid will be surprised to find out where I was earlier tonight. The Broadway revival of Annie had its first preview performance October 3rd. I loved that show the first time it was on Broadway, not to mention the second, that I had to be at The Palace Theatre this evening to see the show “come home.”
I remember my first glimpse of it on the Tony Awards in 1977. I didn’t know anything about it except that a girl named Andrea McArdle was in it and playing the title role in a show based on the comic strip character Little Orphan Annie. Andrea came onto the broadcast and sang her positivity anthem, “Tomorrow,” which I instantaneously loved. Dorothy Loudon, playing the dragon lady who ran the orphanage, and her accomplices Robert Fitch and Barbara Erwin as the three “comic villains” sang of their dreams of living on “Easy Street.” Then, best of all, girls playing orphans, some just a year younger than me, took the stage wearing Depression-era rags and, undaunted by all of the circumstances beyond their control, belted out a joyous song called “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.” In the space of those three songs and with no further information about the plotline, I already knew I’d love this show for life.
In those golden days Broadway cast recordings became available a week after a show opened. It’s hard to imagine now, isnt it? But that’s the glorious way it was. Some things shouldn’t change because they were already perfect. This was one. I had my “Annie” cast album within days of seeing that Tony broadcast – and literally haven’t stopped singing those numbers since.
I saw every Broadway “Annie” except for Andrea McArdle. She left the show two weeks before my parents, my friend Catherine, her parents, and my friend Claudia and I all went to New York to see it on March 25, 1978. I still recall the date since I awaited that day for months! I was to see all of the subsequent “Annies,” Shelley Bruce, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Smith and Alyson Kirk, then Brittney Kissinger in the revival. I saw all of the “Daddy Warbuckses” and Miss Hannigans” and they were a very impressive group. Harve Presnell was my favorite “Warbucks.” Dorothy Loudon deserved the Tony Award she won for originating the “Miss Hannigan” role. I thought an actress named Dolores Wilson was one of the funniest and best of them, as was Nell Carter in the revival. June Havoc, daughter of my recent research subject, Rose Hovick, played her on Broadway last, before the show closed the first time around – well over two thousand performances later. I can recall how enthralled I was to be watching “Baby June,” all grown up, live and on a stage. She was in her 70’s then.
But tonight’s production – are you ready? Tonight’s new production was the most unsurpassed one of all!
It started with newsreel footage – a great idea, since when the original Annie was on Broadway in 1977, the parents of most kids who went to see it had lived through the Depression. My mother remembered every one of Roosevelt’s cabinet members mentioned in the song “A New Deal for Christmas.” Then the curtain opened on the first orphanage scene, and when the children playing the orphans began to speak, the audience got a surprise: this show is set in New York City, and the children spoke with authentic “Noo Yawk” accents! “Annie” is being played by Lilla Crawford, an adorable child with a beautiful, powerful Broadway belter’s voice. Her rendition of “Tomorrow” all but raised the roof of The Palace. Brava, Lilla!
Like I said, I’ve seen all of the “Miss Hannigans” – but never one as hilarious as this one. The role is in the wild and crazy hands of an actress named Katie Finneran. She’s younger than the rest of the actresses who have played the role. She wears the costumes of a frustrated floozy-wannabe and suddenly, the part makes more sense than it ever did before, such as when she comes on to Bundles McCloskey the laundry man. The “Miss Hannigan” scenes have always been fun to watch but tonight, they were off-the-charts hilarious. Brava, Katie! “Daddy Warbucks” was played, often in an irascible manner, by Anthony Warlow, which made him the funniest “Warbucks” yet. Bravo, Anthony!
The staging of the production numbers was innovative, different from before, and, for the most part, better. I particularly loved the jazzy rendition of “A New Deal for Christmas.” I missed the chorus line-style dance in “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile,” probably because it’s so etched on my memory, but the new dance was cute just the same. The mansion set featured room flats on hinges that gave the impression of Annie running all through a vast section of the house. For those who go to the show, be sure to check out the crystalline Christmas tree at the end.
If I had any criticism to make at all it would be over two of the costume details. Two and just two, because the rest of the costumes were stunning and appropriate, particularly “Miss Hannigan’s” tootsie duds and the dresses worn by the “Boylan Sisters” singing group, which were so pretty (pink flowers on white, my ultimate favorite) that one look and I wanted to have one myself. But I felt the outfits on “Miss Farrell,” Daddy Warbucks’ secretary who is secretly in love with him, were way too plain. She’s a bright young secretary, not a nun or a pilgrim! No blooming wonder Warbucks can’t see how much she likes him if she’s dressed like that. The other costume that struck me as off was that they had “Annie” still running around in her faded red orphanage sweater, worn over her brand new dresses, in the billionaire’s mansion. All things being equal, that clothing detail made no sense whatsoever.
Getting back on the plus side, the scene at the White House with President Roosevelt and his singing cabinet, this time around, is hysterical, and one of the best in the production. The director, James Lapine, and choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler, are clearly a great team, because with this production of Annie, where so many funny new bits have been added, they outdid themselves. This isn’t a show to see just once. It’s one to visit as many times as possible during the run. May it last well over two thousand performances again. Welcome back, Annie!
1977 Tony Awards Broadcast:
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