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November 9, 2012

TT: James Lapine, alchemist

I review the new Broadway revival of Annie in today's Wall Street Journal. Very much to my surprise, I loved it. Here's an excerpt.

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annie-palace-theatre.jpgAnnie is dead--but "Annie" lives. Two years after Harold Gray's long-running comic strip about a plucky orphan child finally breathed its last, the perennially popular 1976 stage version of "Little Orphan Annie" is back on Broadway for the third time. For anyone surprised that the musical responsible for inflicting "Tomorrow" on the world has proved to have that kind of staying power, here's an even bigger surprise: This revival of "Annie" is fabulous. Creatively staged by James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim's longtime collaborator, and smartly cast from top to bottom, it makes a convincing case for a musical widely regarded by cynical adults as suitable only for consumption by the very, very young. Even if you're a child-hating curmudgeon, you'll come home grinning in spite of yourself.

What makes this "Annie" so special is that Mr. Lapine, who claims never to have seen the show prior to directing this production, decided to approach it not as an exercise in neon-lit nostalgia but as a hard-headed fable about life in the Great Depression. His Annie (Lilla Crawford) has a side-of-the-mouth Brooklyn-style accent, while Miss Hannigan (Katie Finneran), who runs the orphanage-sweatshop on whose doorstep Annie's parents left her, is a nasty, drunken slut. And while the second act remains relentlessly optimistic--it couldn't very well be anything else--Mr. Lapine has also succeeded in endowing the relationship between Annie and Daddy Warbucks (Anthony Warlow), the tough-guy tycoon who adopts her, with wholly credible emotion.

That last twist is the most striking aspect of Mr. Lapine's staging, and his stars deserve great credit for bringing it to fruition. The eleven-year-old Ms. Crawford's voice is (if I may resort to euphemism) penetrating, but she has more than enough acting talent to compensate for the undeniable fact that she sings REALLY LOUD. As for Mr. Warlow, an Australian musical-theater performer with extensive operatic experience, he's destined for stage stardom. Not only does he sing "Something Was Missing," his solo number, with bewitching finesse--vocal connoisseurs will be dazzled by his skillful use of head voice--but he acts as well as he sings....

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Read the whole thing here.

An interview with James Lapine and Andy Blankenbuehler, the director and choreographer of Annie:

Posted November 9, 2012 12:00 AM

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