Chicago Theatre Review
A Holiday Treat
Annie – Broadway in Chicago
Leapin’ lizards! Making another visit to the Windy City, to help usher in the holidays, Chicago welcomes this non-Equity National Tour based upon the 35th anniversary revival of this heart-warming family musical. The original 1977 production, with a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, was a multiTony Award-winning hit musical, based on the comic strip characters by Harold Gray. The production ran for almost six years. Eventually the show spawned two Broadway revivals, several National Tours and countless other professional and amateur productions. The popular musical was even adapted for film and TV and hatched two theatrical sequels to the original. An international hit, the enduring love for this show continues to draw audiences over three decades later, especially little girls.
The show’s timeliness is not only reflected in its Christmastime setting; Depression Era America’s economic and political climate feels all too familiar, as well. And while the musical’s strong message of hope and optimism may seem schmaltzy to some theatergoers, only a Scrooge could experience this stirring musical without smiling, laughing out loud or even shedding a tear. Some new life has been breathed into the original 1977 version, courtesy of Thomas Meehan fine-tuning his script, refreshing the orchestrations and eliminating a song or reprise, here and there. Of course, 35 years later, the production features an entirely new cast, many of whom weren’t even born when the original show took Broadway by storm. The exceptionally beautiful new scenic design by Beowulf Boritt is rich and filled with towering perspective and authentic historical color and texture; and Suzy Benzinger’s homage to Theoni V. Aldredge’s original costume designs are superbly lovely. Directed again by Charnin, and re-choreographed by Liza Gennaro, this National Tour feels almost newborn. However, in spite of all these fresh elements, this touring production has a few difficulties.
First, as Annie, Tori Bates does a fine job in the title role in this, her National Tour debut. However, the actress appears a little older than most of the child actresses who’ve played the role. And Campbell Young Associates, the creatives credited to be in charge of hair, wigs and makeup for this production, need to rethink this young lady’s coif. Opening night, poor Tori resembled SNL’s Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna more than Little Orphan Annie. At times the young actress’ face was entirely blocked by her hair.
Erin Fish is a talented actor/singer who, like Miss Bates and all the talented young orphans, sports a voice that carries up to the second balcony. But this lovely actress comes off as too young to be jaded, crabby, booze-swilling Miss Hannigan. Compared to Dorothy Loudon, the original Miss H, and the first revival’s Nell Carter, Ms. Fish seems better suited to play Lily St. Regis or Grace Farrell. And except for going up on her lyrics in her first song, Ms. Fish turns in a solid performance as the show’s villain.
The strength of this production, aside from a sweetly charming dog, in the role of Sandy, is Gilgamesh Taggett, as pompous, boyishly playful Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, and beautiful Casey Prins, as his smart, spunky assistant and eventual love interest, Grace Farrell. Both actors are very talented singers and have the requisite chemistry and charisma to own the stage. Backed by a gifted ensemble of singer/dancers, the two peel the charm off the Big Apple with “N.Y.C.,” while bringing tears to the audience’s eyes with “I Don’t Need Anything But You.” They’re closely followed by another pair of actors, Michael Santora and Mallory King as the two very supple, side-splitting scoundrels, Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis. Together with Ms. Fish, the felonious trio bring down the house with their marvelous musical ode to envy, “Easy Street.”
Other standouts in this large, talented ensemble include Jeffrey B. Duncan as a winning FDR, Timothy Allen playing a very funny Harold Ickes, Adam du Plessis and Roxy York as Drake and Mrs. Pugh, the very competent heads of the household staff, and Katie Davis as the Star to Be, a brand-new ingenue o the Big Apple.
Beautifully backed by Keith Levenson’s full-sounding eight-member pit orchestra, the cast sounds great. Sadly, every so often the actors’ microphones cut out, so we miss some of the lyrics and dialogue. But generally the overall look and sound of this Tour is polished and professional.
Following a very bitter national election, we could all use the positive message that comes from “Tomorrow,” Annie’s anthem to keeping your chin up when times are tough. And this show is, after all, what the Christmas spirit is all about. With the holidays just around the corner, and Macy’s impressive Walnut Room tree already decorated and lit, this is an Orphan Annie Chicago can cheer about.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 9-13 by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, at all Ticketmaster locations, by calling the Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com