Gratuitous Violins rating: ** out of ****
Annie is definitely a four-star show. The original Broadway production racked up a slew of Tony awards in 1977, including Best Musical, and I can see why. All of the elements that stood out for theatre audiences in the 1970s still stand out - the score, the book, the choreography.
Unfortunately, the touring production I saw with Steve on Broadway at the Providence Performing Arts Center didn't quite seem like a four-star show.
Part of it, as I said in my previous post, was the audience. It's hard to enjoy the action onstage when it's competing with squirming, restless children in front of you. With a different audience, Annie definitely would have received higher marks from me.
It's really a shame because there were so many things I loved about Annie.
I loved the way Thomas Meehan's book, based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie, creates such larger-than-life characters: the sweet and spunky Annie, played by Madison Kerth, the mean orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, played by Lynn Andrews, and the brusque and preoccupied industrialist Oliver Warbucks, played by David Barton.
And Annie does a great job evoking the 1930s - from references to historical figures such as crime-fighter Elliot Ness to showing us a Hooverville - the shantytowns built by the homeless during the Great Depression. I loved the scene at the White House with Annie, President Roosevelt (played by Jeffrey B. Duncan) and his Cabinet. So that's how the New Deal was created. Who knew?!
Plus, the score, by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, is incredibly catchy. I can't even think about Annie without starting to sing "Tomorrow, tomorrow!"
And the songs fit the story so well, like the homeless people living under the Brooklyn Bridge facetiously singing "We'd Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover." (Which reminded me of the striking British coal miners in Billy Elliot singing "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher.")
Peter Gennaro's choreography, re-created for the tour by his daughter Liza Gennaro, is just wonderful. How can you not feel for those bedraggled little girls scrubbing the floors of their orphanage in sync to the tune of "It's the Hard-Knock Life?"
Also, this was my first time seeing a dog on stage. (I missed Legally Blonde). I started smiling as soon as I saw Sandy, played by an adorable pooch named Mikey. I don't know what it was or why, but I was captivated. All I could think was, awww!
Still, as much as I enjoyed the story and the music and the choreography, the performances didn't really grab me. Yes, the orphans were cute but with the exception of Andrews as Miss Hannigan, the main characters seemed kind of bland and lacked pizazz, something that would have made them truly memorable.
But I definitely got a great sense of why Annie thrilled my friend Steve when he saw the musical during a high school trip to London 30 years ago. Annie set him on the course of a lifetime of theatergoing and I'm so glad it did.