Review: Annie

© Joan Marcus

Yes, the sun will come up tomorrow, but it sure doesn’t shine as brightly in the new Broadway revival of Annie. James Lapine’s staging of this clockwork-perfect musical somehow manages seriously reduce its quotient of joyfulness to the extent that audiences new to the show may well wonder what all the fuss is about. The ebullient glories of Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s classic score remain intact, but this Depression-set musical here seems to be suffering from depression itself.  

With the stage festooned with voluminous amounts of laundry hanging on clotheslines, the show begins with a short film documenting the horrendous conditions of the period in which it’s set, establishing a grim mood that seems incongruous for its cartoon-strip origins. Even the sure-fire number “It’s the Hard Knock Life” that follows shortly thereafter seems lackluster.

The problems are myriad. Lapine, a director far better suited to more cerebral material (Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Passion), fails to put the proceedings over with the requisite punchiness. David Korins’ set--featuring endlessly moving panels suggesting such locales as the decrepit orphanage and Oliver Warbucks’ palatial mansion--seems cheap and lost on the vast Palace stage, with the theater itself not conducive to the relatively intimate show’s charms. And the less said about Andy Blankenbuehler’s awkward, wrongheaded choreography, the better.

Even more problematic is the casting. Two-time Tony Award winner Katie Finneran (Noises Off, Promises, Promises) seemed an ideal choice for the comically villainous, boozy Miss Hannigan, but the normally reliable performer seems off her game, barely managing to muster up the laughs that were so abundant when the late, great Dorothy Loudon played the role in the original production. (Check her out on YouTube if you don’t believe me.) Eleven-year-old Lilla Crawford is a sweetly sympathetic Annie, but she has a tendency to screech her songs. Clarke Thorell and J. Elaine Marcos barely make an impression as the scheming Rooster and his female accomplice, and Brynn O’Malley is similarly unmemorable as Warbucks’ assistant Grace. Even the dog playing Sandy seems stilted and unconvincing.

It’s only Australian star Anthony Warlow, here making his Broadway debut, who truly impresses. His gorgeously sung Warbucks beautifully conveys the character’s combination of stuffy gravitas and underlying warmth tinged with social awkwardness. Not only will audience members desperately want him to adopt Annie, they’ll want to go home with him as well.

You won’t exactly have a bad time. How could you, listening to such tuneful numbers as “N.Y.C.,” “Easy Street,” “Maybe,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and, of course, the modern standard, “Tomorrow.” But for that, you could stay at home and listen to the classic cast album of the original 1977 Broadway production, and for a whole lot less money.

Palace Theater, 1564 Broadway. 877-250-2929.