When it premiered on Broadway, in the wake of Vietnam, inflation and Watergate, the musical inspired by the Jazz Age comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" was a refreshing tonic gulped by parched critics and theatregoers alike. At its center was a little girl belting a song called "Tomorrow," an anthem of hope that became known worldwide.
Annie — which featured a funny-mean orphan matron named Miss Hannigan, her bad-guy brother, an industrialist named Warbucks (no question of how he made his money), his kindly secretary, a mutt named Sandy, a clutch of cute moppets and an appearance by President Franklin Roosevelt — would win Tonys for Best Musical, Best Book (Thomas Meehan) and Best Score (composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin). In the decades that followed Annie, the previously underemployed Meehan became the go-to book writer for Broadway musicals, including the Tony-winning Hairspray and The Producers.
This new staging at the Palace Theatre stars two-time Tony Award winner Katie Finneran (Noises Off and Promises, Promises) as frazzled Miss Hannigan, who laments about "Little Girls" and cooks up a scheme with her brother to outwit Warbucks and land on "Easy Street" (the climax of which incorporates a new visual surprise).
"I was obsessed with the [original cast] album," Finneran told Playbill.com during a break between rehearsals, prior to previews. "My best friend, Sharon Delaney, got me the album for my birthday — I think it was my eighth birthday — and we wore that thing out. We choreographed 'Hard-Knock Life,' we did the whole show with sheets and chairs and performed it for my parents, ad nauseam. It [was] a huge part of my life, growing up. That and Sweeney Todd, but we won't talk about that!"
|photo by Joan Marcus|
Finneran is younger casting than usual for Miss Hannigan, who has often been played as a middle-aged, loudmouth, battle-axe. Finneran said she imagines her Aggie Hannigan as a fortysomething former flapper who, being unmarried, has run out of options in society, so she has landed a job at a city orphanage.
"What options would be left for me if I wasn't married?" the actress asked, adding that sometimes her passion for imagining back-story "gets in my way." When she told Lapine about her thoughts on Hannigan, she said with a laugh, "James said, 'Why don't you keep it simple? Just keep it simple…'"
Annie also stars Australian actor Anthony Warlow (who has played major opera and musical-theatre roles around the globe) making his Broadway debut as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks; 11-year-old Lilla Crawford (who appeared in Broadway's Billy Elliot) as Annie; with Brynn O'Malley (Broadway's Wicked, Sunday in the Park With George) as Warbucks' personal assistant, Grace Farrell; Clarke Thorell (Hairspray) as scheming Rooster Hannigan; and J. Elaine Marcos (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) as Rooster's girlfriend Lily St. Regis.
The Orphans — who participate in the show's signature songs "It's the Hard-Knock Life," "Maybe," "New Deal for Christmas" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" — are Madi Rae DiPietro as July, Georgi James as Pepper, Junah Jang as Tessie, Tyrah Skye Odoms as Kate, Taylor Richardson as Duffy, Emily Rosenfeld as Molly and Jaidyn Young as standby for the roles of Annie, Pepper, Duffy and July.
Crawford, who uses a street-tough, Noo Yawk accent as Annie for this production, is originally from California, where she saw a touring production of Annie (twice). "I remember that after the show, when the girl who played Annie walked out of the stage door and everyone was like, 'Woo!,' and she was signing all these autographs," Crawford told Playbill.com. "I thought that was so cool. I don't know why; I was like, 'I wish that could be me someday.'"
The production also features Ashley Blanchet, Jane Blass, Jeremy Davis, Fred Inkley, Merwin Foard, Joel Hatch, Amanda Lea LaVergne, Gavin Lodge, Liz McCartney, Desi Oakley, Keven Quillon, David Rossetti, Sarah Solie, Dennis Stowe and Ryan VanDenBoom.
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