PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 3-9: Annie, Again; Richard Nelson's Sorry; Checkers at Vineyard

By Robert Simonson
November 9, 2012

The sun came up yesterday. Just like Annie said it would. And then it went down and evening came. And then Annie opened.



The new production of the smash 1977 musical was directed by James Lapine and starred Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan, Australian star Anthony Warlow making his Broadway debut as Daddy Warbucks and 11-year-old Lilla Crawford as the moppet herself. Playing her trusty mutt Sandy was Sunny. Another Sandy, the hurricane, did not delay the opening of this revival, but it did knock out a few previews.

The Times noted the timing. In 1977, New York City wasn't doing so well. Thirty-five years later, we're reeling again, not just from Sandy, but from a lingering recession not quite as deep, but somewhat reminiscent, of the economic slough that Annie was slogging through in the 1930s. "In its first incarnation Annie was an unstoppable sunshine steamroller," wrote Ben Brantley of The Grey Lady. "This version, which flirts with shadows, moves more shakily."

Others were similarly pleased, if not overwhelmed. "Hardcore fans may find it lacking in the property's traditional brash vibrancy," said the Hollywood Reporter, "but what makes this revival disarming is that it's cute without being cutesy and sweet without being saccharine." Newsday reported, "For all the freight of timeliness, this remains a sweet spot of a family musical, full of adorable, but not sticky-adorable, waifs punching the air with their teeny fists and belting 'Tomorrow' over and over until every cynic within earshot might be a believer. Director James Lapine's handsome yet lovable vision finds the emotional core without losing the cartoon magic. There is a modesty, a humanity within the spectacle that helps the too-large theatre feel embracing."

Anthony Warlow
photo by Joan Marcus

Critics' darling Finneran wasn't as beloved as usual this time around. "If you missed her in her Tony Award-winning turn as a daffy, drunken floozy in Promises, Promises, she reprises it here," quipped the AP. "In fact, she does very little new." However, Newsday countered, "I'll hear no negative words about Katie Finneran, who, unlike her much-admired campier predecessors, makes Miss Hannigan both a cruel clown and a genuinely erotic creature whose thwarted ambitions seem just the slightest bit sad."

Warlow's Warbucks was well thought of. He "ventures into naturalism, inflecting his songs with unexpected emotional variety," said the Times, while the Hollywood Reporter said, "Perhaps the most distinguishing element in this production, however, is Australian musical-theatre and opera veteran Warlow's impressive Broadway debut as Daddy Warbucks."

As for Crawford, the Times called her "pretty close to perfect in the title role." New York magazine offered the best zinger of the day, saying, "Crawford's adorable, of course, and sings flawlessly in that trademark Annie timbre, i.e. somewhere between a spirit-bowl and a bandsaw."

Families were going to come to this show no matter what the critics said. But these notices were probably good enough to push them in the direction of the box office a little bit faster.

***

Off-Broadway, Checkers, Douglas McGrath's new play about Richard Nixon at a dramatic moment in his political career — the infamous "Checkers" speech, that saved Nixon's young career in 1952 — opened Nov. 8 at Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre, following a delay due to Hurricane Sandy. Terry Kinney directed two seasoned theatre actors who now only make rare appearances on the stage: Anthony LaPaglia as Nixon and Kathryn Erbe as his wife, Pat.

The Hollywood Reporter liked the actors but found the play "superficial," saying it "sits uneasily between glib sitcom and earnest character study." The Times wrote, "Though briskly paced and attractively packaged, Checkers often seems to float in stylistic limbo. It can't decide whether it wants to exist in two or three dimensions. Often it's as flat as a comic strip." The Post stated that the drama "offers occasional glimpses into the former president's complicated depths, but doesn't quite add up to an insightful portrait."

Jay O. Sanders and Laila Robins in Sorry.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Faring better with the critics was Sorry, the latest addition to Richard Nelson's "Apple Family" plays, in which he tracks the lives of a Rhinebeck, NY, clan in real time, on momentous days in the the nation's history. (Sorry takes place on Nov. 6, the day of the 2012 presidential election.) Since the first Apple play — That Hopey Changey Thing — appeared at the Public Theater two years ago, these dramas have picked up steam as important entries in each new Off-Broadway sesaon.

Ben Brantley began his review by saying. "I don't know about you, but I spent election night with my family." He concluded his glowing review by calling Sorry a "beautiful, deeply cathartic play." "The lightning-in-a-bottle nature of the works," wrote Entertainment Weekly, "imbues them with a thrilling immediacy."

Reported the Daily News: "'I can only imagine what we must sound like,' says one of the Apple siblings after a heated exchange in Sorry. What they sound like in this exquisite new play by Richard Nelson is so flawlessly authentic that I felt obliged to apologize for horning in on their intimate conversations."

It should be noted that all the critics reviewed the same exact performance — Nov. 6 — making Sorry that rare throwback in which reviewers were made to attend opening night. A fourth Apple play is scheduled for fall 2013.

***

There was hardly a show in New York, Off-Broadway or on, that wasn't hurt by Hurricane Sandy in some way. Broadway shows were the first to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again. Most only lost a few performances.

For Glengarry Glen Ross, however, the repercussions were more serious. The Broadway revival of the David Mamet perennial about sharks in a real-estate office delayed its official opening by a full month. Producers said the postponement was made to account for canceled rehearsals as a result of Sandy, even though the effect of the storm lasted less than a month. The production, which began previews Oct. 19, had originally been scheduled to officially open Nov. 11. Opening night is now Dec. 8 with a review release date of Dec. 10. The producers also announced that the limited run will be extended through Jan. 20, 2013.

The show, directed by Daniel Sullivan, stars Al Pacino.