Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, but those orphans are cute. Led by the inimitable Annie, belting out the uptempo “Maybe”, a niftily drawn 1930s NYC skyline looming in the background, the girls dance and mug winningly and by golly they steal our hearts. “Awwwwwwww”s and “Oooooooooh”s swept through the Children’s Theater auditorium on opening night. Never mind that the girls live on cold mush in a vicious orphanage at the height of the Great Depression with no hope of escape. Annie (at the Children’s Theatre Co., through June 12) has much more in common with “Little Orphan Annie“, the venerable comic strip on which it’s based, than on any kind of sociological realism.
Which is as it should be. You don’t go to Annie for verisimilitude and a politically correct attitude toward adoption. You go for kewpie doll cuteness with a capital Q and the CTC production, directed by the astonishingly busy Peter Rothstein, delivers the goods. Starting with the orphans (run by the toothlessly nasty Miss Hannigan), then onto the delightful Hoovervillians, Daddy Warbucks’s happy flunkies, the hootingly funny Rooster and Ms. Lily St. Regis, the goofy radio performers, etc. Everyone sings their heart out, front and center, and has a rollicking good time. And so – unless you are fearfully disturbed – will you.
The material – book by Thomas Meehan (Hairspray, The Producers), lyrics by Martin Charnin (I Remember Mama), music by Charles Strouse (Bye Bye Birdie, Applause) – is decent, and doesn’t much stray from its comics provenance. Annie escapes, is recaptured, then is brought to Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks who very quickly falls in love with her. The songs are straight forwardly tuneful, the highlight being the justly famous “Tomorrow”. They do their job admirably.
Leapin’ lizards, but Megan Fischer is terrific as Annie. She brought me up short with her rendition of “Tomorrow,” which she sings with passion and genuine yearning. Fischer resists the temptation to cutesify the role and this gives the production true power. She’s better, really, than the material. Also, director Rothstein laudably forgoes the frizzy red fright wig that so many Annies are forced to wear. This girl is the real deal.
Also quite good is Lee Mark Nelson, who plays Warbucks with restrained authority. Like Fischer, he avoids turning his character into a parody and thus his love for Annie feels genuine. I really believed that he was prepared to let Annie go if her parents turned up. This added intensity.
The rest of the cast excels, albeit in the over-the-top CTC style. Angela Timberman‘s Miss Hannigan is shriekingly daft and funny. She professes to despise the orphans but I think she secretly adores them. (And who wouldn’t.) As Lily and Rooster, Reed Sigmund and Autumn Ness seem to have stepped out of a production of Guys And Dolls at the insane asylum of Charenton. Luckily for us, they have the chops (and then some) to pull this off. I’m going to resist the temptation to describe Gerald Drake‘s hugely funny running bit as the butler. As always, he’s spot on. Teri Parker-Brown is poised and sweet as Grace. Good work all around.
Finally, Tulip, as Sandy, and making his CTC debut, steals every scene he’s in. However, Rothstein should speak to him about a tendency to cheat upstage, giving us too vivid a look at his furry butt.
Annie is definitely recommended.
For information about John Olive please visit his website.