BWW Reviews: ANNIE National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center
Based on the Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie, the musical tells the story of a little orphan with equal measures of pluck and positivity who charms everyone's hearts despite a next-to-nothing start in 1930s New York City. She is determined to find her parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of a New York City Orphanage run by the cruel, embittered Miss Hannigan. With the help of the other girls in the Orphanage, Annie escapes to the wondrous world of NYC, finds herself a new home and family in billionaire Oliver Warbucks, his personal secretary Grace Farrell, and a lovable mutt named Sandy.
The original Broadway production opened on April 21st, 1977, where it would not only go on to win 7 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), but also ran for 2,377 performances in it's nearly six year-long run. It spawned numerous productions in many countries, as well as national tours, two Broadway revivals, and several Film/TV adaptations. The musical's songs "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard Knock Life" are among its most popular musical numbers.
The current national tour is directed by original stage director (and lyricist) Martin Charnin. As I went into this production, I was aware that this production was being done the old fashioned way, so I was expecting 'your grandmother's kind of theatre', which for the most part really wasn't. Yes, it is done the old fashioned way, but in a very good way. Though in the beginning, the staging did seem to drag a little, which did improve as the night went on. A very top-notch design team is shown through great display from the sounds designed by Peter Hylenski; Ken Billington's lighting; Suzy Benzinger's costumes; to Beowulf Boritt's old fashioned, yet eye-popping sets.
But what I personally found to be most compelling about this production was the cast consisting of mostly non-equity actors. Issie Swickle gives a very charming performance in the title; Gilgamesh Taggett gives a more sincere Warbucks from what I've seen before; Lynn Andrews literally steals the show as the villainous Miss Hannigan; Ashley Edler is such a natural as Warbucks' private secretary, Grace Farrell; Allan Ray Baker both looks and sounds very convincing as FDR; Hannah Slabaugh really shines in her big moment as A Star to Be in the NYC number; Even a very well trained Sunny as Annie's K-9 companion, Sandy!
While this production may be seen to some as dated, they should keep in mind that the original production was successful for a reason! I think anyone who grew up with the original production will find a lot to like in this one, and I think the new generation of audiences will have a good old time!