With “Star Wars” back on the screen, why not “Annie” on the boards? Defiantly old-fashioned even in 1977, the musical that unleashed “Tomorrow” on the world is no more dated now than it was then, and this 20th anniversary production is an enjoyable, professional re-mounting. If the show no longer has the ability to catch an audience unawares with its retro charm or power-lunged tykes, “Annie” remains commercial family entertainment, and should nicely tap into Broadway’s tourist trade.
With original director Martin Charnin back at the helm, this new “Annie” hasn’t been reconsidered to any noticeable extent (even Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes provoke deja vu), but a good cast and a decent, if unspectacular, physical production make “Annie” a solid entry in Broadway’s crowded spring lineup.
The recent brouhaha over the hiring and firing of a 12-year-old actress in the title role won’t matter much to audiences once 8-year-old Brittny Kissinger hits the stage. Cute but not cloying, the young actress has the big voice long associated with the role yet without the similarly familiar steely edges. “Annie” no longer has the surprise factor going for it — and so a repeat of the star-making turn that produced Andrea McArdle is unlikely — but little Kissinger won’t disappoint kids or their parents.
Actually, it’s Nell Carter as Miss Hannigan, the evil operator of the orphanage, who gets above-the-title billing here, and she makes for a fine, broadly played comic foil. Whether growling her nasty orders to the orphans or using a sweet-as-honey voice when kissing up to the adults, Carter finds the right mix of villainy: comic book with a healthy dollop of Dickens. Her performance of “Little Girls” upholds that number’s position as an “Annie” high point, and her new song written especially for this production — “You Make Me Happy” — takes full advantage of Carter’s belting vocal style, even if the act-one song itself isn’t particularly memorable. Both the production and Carter would have been better served with a new number in the second act, when the Miss Hannigan character is left to fizzle away without a big send-off.
As Daddy Warbucks, Conrad John Schuck (the actor, well-known as John Schuck, recently began using his given name, Conrad, as a tribute to his father) has the requisite deep, booming voice and formal but warm chemistry with Annie. Any actor playing Warbucks must convey, with few words, a growing fatherly attachment to the urchin, and Schuck does it well.
Rest of the cast is at least adequate, although some of the orphan girls could do with a bit less staginess. In fact, so could adult Jim Ryan, who mugs up a storm as Miss Hannigan’s con-man brother. Still, he (like the children) dances and sings with the enthusiasm the show demands.
New sets by Kenneth Foy — heavy on the painted backdrops, lots of sliding panels — are more efficient than eye-popping, and seem modest by Broadway musical standards. Only an urchin would be dazzled by the Warbucks mansion, an interior that, like the production itself, is more attractive than stunning.