Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 20, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Drama Review: `Annie’
Leapin’ lizards! Can it really be time for another
revival of "Annie"?
The Paper Mill is one of three area theaters reminding us that this
is the musical’s 25th anniversary year. And although it seems like
yesterday, it has been 19 years since Paper Mill last staged the hit
musical that ran for more than five years on Broadway.
It should come as no surprise that the gargantuan success of the show
fashioned by writer Thomas Meehan, composer Charles Strouse, and lyricist
Martin Charnin from Harold Gray’s popular comic strip, "Little
Orphan Annie," would eventually multiply, divide, and breed innumerable
productions, both large and small, throughout the civilized world.
While countless productions can be found onstage at regional and community
theaters every place your find a little redhead with a big voice,
"Annie" is being staged at the Paper Mill in its appropriately
"Annie" is the quintessence of a fast-fading formula musical
genre whose very predictability makes it endearing. For all its familiarity
and general lack of excitement, both musically and dramatically, "Annie"
is quietly appealing and reassuring the way a short return to nostalgia
brings comfort and security after your boundaries have been stretched
by the passing years. "Annie" isn’t an old musical, it just
seems like one. That’s comforting in a way, but just a bit boring.
Under Greg Ganakas’ direction, the Paper Mill show and cast go through
predictable patterns as if nothing — short of that beloved mongrel
Sandy forgetting an entrance or being naughty on stage — could
alter the acutely dimensionless activity. In "Annie," the
Depression Era couldn’t be less depressing. Even in December, neither
plight of the homeless huddled around outdoor fires, nor the cruelty
at the Municipal Orphanage, will allow any ill wind to chill the warm
glow that exudes from Annie and her glad-ragged cohorts. There is
a decided pleasure in seeing them cavort in synchronized waves of
show biz skills, while their tyrannical, blowzy matron of horrors,
Miss Hannigan, swigs her hooch and brandishes a paddling stick with
all the menace of a demented trick-or-treater.
Sarah Hyland may be one of the more sophisticated Annies to melt any
capitalist’s heart. Tall, self-assured, and perky, Hyland takes an
aggressive, no-nonsense approach to the role that backfires only when
she needs to be vulnerable. But will someone please take away her
horrid red Medusa-curl wig and burn it? Notwithstanding her mostly
off-pitch singing, Hyland belts out the requisite notes with gusto.
Even with his obligatory Yul Brynner coif, Rich Hebert brings a tough
and tender distinction to the role of Daddy Warbucks. Too bad he only
gets to use his fine baritone voice in the single solo, "Something
Was Missing." As much a caricature as it is a character, the role
of Miss Hannigan gives Catherine Cox an opportunity to throw subtlety
to the wind as she mugs her way effectively through "Little Girls"
and "Easy Street."
I doubt if Warbucks ever had a more stunning secretary than Crista
Moore, whose lovely soprano voice is underused, but whose radiant
presence glows brighter than the fully-lit Christmas tree. Eric Michael
Gillett was tongue-in-cheek-ily effective as F.D.R. And as Annie’s
bogus parents, both Jim Walton and Tia Speros bring a vaudevillian
flavor to their respective portrayals of Rooster and Lily St. Regis.
The half-dozen rebellious orphans and supporting cast seem to confront
each new scene with the confidence that comes with a "New Deal."
Standout among the orphans is pint-size Jaclyn Neidenthal. Catch her
snappy cartwheel and split. The show has been pleasantly choreographed
by prescription by Linda Goodrich.
The handsome settings by Michael Anania (though why would Warbucks
hang his coveted Mona Lisa and Blue Boy in his study 20 feet above
eye level?), as well as other production values were all first rate.
For those of us who have been Annie-sized for the past 25 years, the
magic is slightly muted. For the "Tomorrow" generation, "Annie"
still works like magic. Arf!
— Simon Saltzman
25th anniversary production runs through December 8. $30 to $62.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.