BWW Review: ANNIE at Bass Performance Hall
It's fitting that the weather on opening night of ANNIE as Bass Hall was gloomy and quite wet. Despite the redundant anthem boasting "the sun'll come out tomorrow," the quality of the current tour didn't seem so bright. With generally unremarkable performances across the board, any themes of hope or optimism felt anything but inspiring.
Based on the comic strip about the now-famous, redheaded, plucky orphan, ANNIE is the spirited tale of an eleven-year-old who escapes a dingy New York orphanage run by menacing alcoholic Miss Hannigan, and wins the heart and home of billionaire Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks. the show's strength is its memorable score, featuring "Maybe," "It's The Hard-Knock Life," "Little Girls," and "Tomorrow."
Although ANNIE was revived on Broadway and helmed by prolific director James Lapine in 2012, Martin Charnin, (lyricist and director for the original production 44 years ago) substandardly directs this touring production. His guidance provides a series of lifeless performances from the child actors and not one memorable appearance amongst the principal adult players (who display promising talent, but seem misguided and perhaps miscast). Choreography by Liza Gennaro fails to enhance the show, barely providing more than a simple hand gesture or two at any given moment.
Typically, highlights of the show are the upbeat numbers, and in this production, they still provided the most energy: "It's The Hard-Knock Life," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile," and "Easy Street." However, the usually lively "N.Y.C" has been scaled down, exchanging the colorful ensemble of choreographed New Yorkers for a handful of Warbucks' staff members who march (in matching green uniforms) along with Annie, Grace and their boss to attend a movie downtown. Paired with the always-clunky numbers "We'd Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover" and "A New Deal For Christmas," this tour was void of the youthful joy that often allows audiences to forgive the show's flaws.
Giving credit where credit is due, the adult ensemble perfectly performed every step and note as instructed, so kudos for their commitment. In her brief appearance as the Star To Be, Katie Davis proved to be a scene-stealer who was deserving of more stage time. Casey Prins' take on Grace Farrell seemed to come from a sincere place, even when her scene partners failed to rise to the occasion. But the clear audience favorite of the night was the dog that played Sandy, whose confused entrance (he seemed to combine the commands "run" and "paw," and jogged onstage on only three legs) garnered cheers from the packed theatre.
On opening night, the actress who plays the title ragamuffin was absent, and in her place was a cute (but wooden) Amanda Swickle. Gilgamesh Taggett, who has performed as Oliver Warbucks for more than three years, had a great look for the role, but lacked chemistry with his co-stars, delivering a mostly forgettable reading. Erin Fish had an impressive set of pipes and some clever comedic moments, but lacked the sharp wit and deadpan snark that makes Miss Hannigan the type of villain that we love to hate. With her youthful face and charming smile, Ms. Fish might be better suited as the sweet, but sleazy Lily St. Regis.This version of ANNIE remains faithful to the family-friendly brand it's known to be, and despite its many shortcomings, the crowd offered constantly polite applause followed by the (perhaps obligatory) standing ovation during bows. However, amidst the company of more contemporary kid-friendly shows like MATILDA and SCHOOL OF ROCK, ANNIE doesn't seem to be aging well. The show continues at Fort Worth's Bass Hall through this Sunday, January 22nd. Tickets and more information are available at www.BassHall.com.