The NETworks Presentations, LLC, Roger Hess and TC Theatrical production of Annie, playing now through Sunday at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium courtesy Broadway Series South, is a brand-new Annie for a brand-new century. The show’s lyricist Martin Charnin, who directed Annie’s multiple Tony Award®-winning 1977 debut and the Tony-nominated 1997 revival on Broadway, once again demonstrates his theatrical genius by creating a fresh, new, highly entertaining version of what has to be one of the most familiar (and overproduced) shows in the American musical theater repertoire.
Charnin stages the National Tour of Annie with verve on spectacular new sets by scenic designer Ming Cho Lee, and choreographer Liza Gennaro contributes some delightful dance numbers to enchant the Triangle children of all ages who gave Annie a loud and lengthy standing ovation on opening night (March 14th). New arrangements by musical director/conductor Keith Levenson also freshen this familiar score by Charles Strouse (music) and Charnin (lyrics), which includes such show-stoppers as “It’s the Hard-Knock Life,” “N.Y.C.,” and “Easy Street,” plus “Maybe” and “Tomorrow.”
Conrad John Schuck, who was a replacement billionaire industrialist Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks in the original 1977 production and starred as Warbucks in the 1997 Broadway revival of Annie, reprises that role here with brio, opposite sensational newcomer Marissa O’Donnell, who at age 12 already has the fine flair for comedy and the big Broadway voice required to make a career treading the boards on the Great White Way.
With his shaven head and bulldog jowls, Schuck both looks and acts the role of Warbuck, who is one tough cookie, a great bear of a man whose gruff exterior hides a soft heart. Orphaned at 10, Warbucks pulled himself up by his bootstraps and amassed a fortune that not only makes him a formidable captain of American industry but a pillar of the Republican Party.
Whether working with Schuck or with Lola, who makes brief but memorable appearances as Sandy, Marissa O’Donnell is terrific as the intrepid orphan whose irrepressible optimism touches the heart of Warbucks and, in this musical at least, inspires wheelchair-bound President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Allan Baker) to shake off his lethargy and launch the New Deal program of public works that, along with the mobilization of industry during World War II, pulled this nation out of the Great Depression precipitated by the 1929 stock-market crash.
Victoria Oscar is a scream as Miss Hannigan, the miserable, whiskey-swilling mistress of the New York Municipal Orphanage, where she forces Annie and the other orphans to work in a sweatshop, sewing clothes for the garment industry, rather than go to school. Scott Willis is hilarious Miss Hannigan’s brother Rooster, a bunco artist supreme who gets caught because he cannot resist crowing when his scams succeed; and Elizabeth Broadhurst is positively radiant as lovely blonde Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ Girl Friday, whose devotion to her hard-charging boss eventually evolves into something more, much more.
Television star Mackenzie Phillips (“One Day at a Time”) is okay as Rooster’s tough-talking girlfriend Lily St. Regis, but she never generates the wattage to justify her star billing. When performed with panache, the role of Lily St. Regis can be a scene-stealer. But it isn’t here.
Allan Baker likewise needs to put a little more pizzazz into his performance as FDR, and to work harder on FDR’s distinctive accent and vocal mannerisms. But Harry Turpin is very funny as prissy Interior Secretary Harold Ickes; tiny Amanda Balon is a delight as Molly the littlest orphan; David Chernault (Drake), Katherine Pecevich (Mrs. Pugh), and Liz Power (Mrs. Greer) are all first rate as Warbucks’ domestic staff; and Christopher Vettel is good as radio host Bert Healy and Julia Cardia, subbing for Monica L. Patton, contributes a nice cameo as the Star to Be on the Oxydent “Hour of Smiles.”
Scenic designer Ming Cho Lee’s spectacular soaring sets for the orphanage, the interior of the Warbucks’ mansion (especially the glass-domed grand staircase during a snowfall), the neon-lit stroll through New York City, and the Oval Office are simply fabulous. So is the lighting by Ken Billington, the period costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge and Jimm Halliday, the hair design by Bernie Ardia, and the sound design by Peter Hylenski. Animal trainer William Berloni also deserves special recognition for transforming Lola into the veritable image of Sandy, probably the most famous stray dog in comic-strip history.
With this bodacious National Tour of Annie, Broadway Series South scores another triumph in bringing the outstanding traveling shows to the City of Oaks. Don’t miss the chance to see Broadway veteran Conrad John Schuck and rising star Marissa O’Donnell breathe new life into the roles of Daddy Warbucks and Little Orphan Annie.
Broadway Series South presents Annie Thursday-Friday, March 16-17, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 18, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 19, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18-$68. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060 . Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=1613. THE TOUR: http://www.annieontour.com/ [inactive 5/06]. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083564/. “Little Orphan Annie”: http://www.liss.olm.net/loahp/ [inactive 7/09].