BWW Review: ANNIE at Shea's Buffalo Theatre
BROADWAY'S ANNIE HITS THE BUFFALO STAGE
The iconic 1977 Charles Strouse musical ANNIE opened last night at Shea's Buffalo to a large, appreciative audience. After the most recent Broadway revival that failed mostly due to a poor heavy handed directorial concept, Annie's original lyricist, Martin Charnin, chose to direct his version of this new National tour.
This now Broadway classic has been taken from the comic strips to the stage, the large screen, a television rendition, a failed sequel (ANNIE 2: MISS HANNIGAN'S REVENGE), a Madison Square Garden Production and 2 Broadway revivals. Audiences young and old can't seem to get enough of that little redheaded orphan and hit songs by Charles Strouse like "Tomorrow," "Maybe" and "It's A Hard Knock Life."
Casting of the title role can be difficult, but Issie Swickle certainly possesses a knock out voice and had no problem winning the audience over as the abandoned orphan with a bit of a hard edge. Unfortunately, Charnin's direction did little to help Miss Swickle develop more than a stand and belt attitude about the role. Her innate charm needed development, through no fault of this young talented actress. Herein lies the major problem with this revival. Although Mr Charnin directed the original Broadway production starring Andrea McArdle, this time around his direction seemed uninspired , with his directorial choices leaving the evening feeling somewhat flat, as if each character's next action was by rote, without intent.The childrens ensemble lacked individuality, although it is plainly written into Thomas Meehan's script. In his attempt to soften up the effects of the latest revival, all Charnin seems to have achieved is complacency.
Luckily, the talented adults fared much better. Lynn Andrews, as the evil Orphange mum Miss Hannigan, was hilarious in her dead pan deliveries, suprisingly agile, limber dancing, and most importantly her strong voice. The orphans were appropriately intimidated by her physical presence, but found enough in her persona to make fun of. Her show stopper "Little Girls" allowed her to shine, incorporating multiple voices and exaggerated body gestures. Billionaire Oliver Warbucks (played by Gilgamesh Taggett) was the blustery business man who becomes enchanted with the young orphan who comes to visit for Christmas. Mr. Taggett has a large, round voice that dealt well with his challenging Act II ballad, "Something was Missing." Ashley Edler was charming as Warbucks' assistant, Grace Farrell. Her pleasing singing voice, coupled with her nurturing presence, were a nice foil to the ogre of Miss Hannigan.
The secondary roles of Miss Hannigan's brother, Rooster ( Garrett Deagon) and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Lucy Werner) were best in their scenes trying to convince Warbucks that they were Annie's long lost parents. Their number with Hannigan, "Easy Street," had iconic choreography in the original 1977 production by Peter Gennaro. In this revival, his daughter Liza Gennaro incorporated some of the original dance movements into the show stopping number. At other times, the dancing was quite rudimentary, and it seemed like the dancing ensemble could have dealt with much more than they were required to do. The large production number "N.Y.C" never truly built to a true New York frenzy, but instead just petered out.
Kudos to Jeffrey B. Duncan as FDR. His droll delivery coupled with his attempt at leading his staff in a reprise of "Tomorrow" in the Oval Office was genuinely funny and had much of the audience laughing out loud for it's awkwardness.
The many set pieces, designed by Beowulf Boritt, were complemented by ornately painted classic theatre backdrops. This old fashioned form of scenery worked beautifully, in great part to lovely lighting design by TONY Award winner Ken Billington. The detailed costumes by Suzy Benzinger often took inspiration from the originals by Theoni V. Aldredge.
The National Tour of ANNIE plays at Shea's Buffalo Theatre, December 8-13, 2015.
Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 PM, Friday at 8:00 PM, Saturday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, and Sunday at 2:00 pm and 7:00 PM.
All production photos by Joan Marcus