Economic uncertainty and high unemployment rates, resulting in an overwhelming resentment towards the previous presidential administration that failed to live up to its promises of prosperity, with the new President struggling to find a viable solution to stimulate the economy – this scenario could apply to the sentiments felt by many Americans in recent years. However, this is the state of the nation in the world as depicted in Annie, currently playing at the Palace Theatre, which is set in New York City in the midst of the Great Depression.
[Disclaimer: Once again, in the spirit of full disclosure, my sole interest in seeing Annie was primarily based on the fact that Anthony Warlow, an acclaimed singer and actor best known for his remarkable performance in Phantom of the Opera in his native Australia, was finally making his Broadway debut in Annie as Oliver Warbucks. Having only heard him on various cast recordings and solo albums, not to mention rave reviews from my Australian friends, I was looking forward to seeing him perform live on stage. So, some advanced warning that there will most likely be some mild fan-girly moments within this blog post.]
Nowadays there seems to be a lot of cynicism and resignation everywhere you look, so the optimism and hope the title character exudes even when her life at the orphanage seems bleak, and turns out to be quite infectious. This is the first time I have seen this musical on stage, only having only seen the 1982 movie and the 1999 TV movie version, albeit many years ago. Interestingly, Annie was not among the discounted shows on the TKTS board, though it did appear on the TKTS boards roughly a half hour before show time, which was after obtaining balcony box seats via the box office; the balcony box seats (on the left side) had a full view of the stage, albeit at an angle. The show was fantastic, and started off humorously with the usual pre-show announcement literally barked out (by a dog) and translated by that usual omnipresent voice. The set design was inspired, with the set pieces depicting the various rooms in Oliver Warbucks’ mansion magically unfolding like a large storybook, in contrast to the single, stark set for the orphanage from where Annie manages to escape. Another interesting change (at least from the aforementioned movie versions I’ve seen), the orphans all sang and spoke with distinct New York accents, which added a bit of the realism of the piece.
The cast was amazing – Lilla Crawford as the titular Annie was fantastic – her spunk and tenacity shone through her poignant renditions of “Tomorrow” and “Maybe”. Anthony Warlow brought humor and heart to what is usually a more austere role, and his lovely baritone voice was just as wonderful to hear live my friends have extolled – his charm is ever-present from the moment he walks on stage, and his comedic timing is impeccable. Katie Finneran gave a spectacularly outrageous performance as the Miss Hannigan, playing the role in a uniquely madcap (and drunken) manner, she, along with Clarke Thorell as Rooster Hannigan and J. Elaine Marcos as Lily St. Regis provide the comic relief, as well as a dose of pragmatism as the recount their plot to get to “Easy Street”. Of course, Sunny, as Sandy the dog more or less upstaged his human counterparts, getting cheers and applause from the audience, which predominantly consisted of young children (mostly girls) and their parents.
The stage door experience was fine as always, composed mostly of the aforementioned children and their parents – as the newer schedule has two performances on Sunday (most shows usually have one performance on Sundays, if any), many of the adult cast did not come out the stage door, though all the girls did, which was fine, as the crowd of girls that surrounded me wanted to meet them (and Sandy as well, though we were informed that the dog would not come out). The nice thing that happens at the Palace Theatre stage door is that there is someone (usually one of the security personnel) hands out (silver, this time) sharpies to the actors upon their exiting the stage door, which is always helpful to those waiting at the stage door to help identify cast members from the crew or visitors who also exit out the stage door.
All in all, I enjoyed Annie, and would recommend it (if only to witness the sheer awesomeness of Anthony Warlow and the absolute fabulousness of Katie Finneran), and it’s one of the few (inoffensive) family friendly musicals left on Broadway that’s guaranteed to leave the audience singing the songs upon leaving the theatre.