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09 Nov 2012

Lilla Crawford; guests Bernadette Peters, Andrea McArdle and Marissa O
Lilla Crawford; guests Bernadette Peters, Andrea McArdle and Marissa O
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first nighters at the opening of Broadway's new production of Annie.


Arf, arf! Who's there? Sandy, the Wonder Dog of Broadway, that's who — back for a third Main Stem stay with Annie, who, befitting Daddy Warbucks' adopted daughter, settled Nov. 8 into a palace — The Palace — for what looks like a long winter's nap.

If this 35th-anniversary revival proves anything, it proves how well-crafted and crowd-pleasing this musical can be. And the three wise men responsible were present to take well-deserved bows at the curtain: Charles Strouse, 84, who wrote the still-exuberant, buoyant and varied music; Martin Charnin, 77, who matched those melodies with dead-on, delightful lyrics — and (back in 1977) directed the whole shebang; and Thomas Meehan, 83, whose crackerjack jokes and heart tugs remain ageless.

They created the show against a monstrous maelstrom of naysayers. If there is a worse premise for a musical than Harold Gray's daily newspaper comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie," which ran from 1924 to 2010, it would be "Don Quixote" or The Declaration of Independence. But their persistence paid off and enjoyed as great a success as those other two inspirations (need I mention the titles?).

What's different after this new Broadway edition is its vision, executed by James Lapine and Andy Blankenbuehler, taking over the directorial and dancing reins from Charnin and the late Peter Gennaro. Since Lapine somehow never saw Annie in any of its other lives and productions, this could be definitely be called "a fresh vision."

Our red-headed 11-year-old heroine and her adorable mutt, Sandy, are orphans of the Depression storm, circa 1933. They meet up in a hobo camp named Hooverville under what looks like the Brooklyn Bridge, and they part just as quickly, each pursued by a different set of authority figures. Annie winds up in an Oliver!-like orphanage for little girls run pretty much into the ground by a lazy-legged, booze-belting Miss Hannigan. Her ticket out and to the big time, is that she's tapped to spend the Christmas holidays with gruff industrialist Oliver Warbucks — a publicity ploy to soften his public image and winds up softening his private heart.

Sandy comes and goes, darts and dashes, throughout the show while Annie and her newfound Daddy Warbucks pave the way for a better and brighter "Tomorrow."

As dog roles go, it's not much — but it never, ever, fails to land. The slightest tricks brings the house down — a reflection of the expert training of William Berloni, who coaxed the original Sandy and copped an honorary Tony for it. Here Sandy is played by Sunny and understudied by Casey, who otherwise does a cameo as Stray Dog.

Berloni passes his compliments upstairs to Lapine: "When you have a good director, it's real easy to make the dogs look good. There's a lot of new stuff in this new version — a couple of new crosses that we've done and different timing and stuff."


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