The new touring production of “Annie” is a winner. There’s a reason this show won seven Tonys in its original presentation and, with a few small exceptions, the current version demonstrates its enduring appeal. Director Martin Charnin (who helmed the original on Broadway) keeps things moving at a brisk pace, making sure to highlight the still-trenchant social commentary for the adults in the crowd, but never forgetting that the core audience of youngsters is there mainly to see the sassy kids and the dog.
Most musical fans know the story of little orphan Annie (Marissa O’Donnell), the cruel orphanage superintendent Miss Hannigan (Alene Robertson) and the kind billionaire Daddy Warbucks (Conrad John Schuck). O’Donnell is charming as the titular tot, her perf a combination of affecting drama and old-fashioned moxie. Her singing is professional, but her voice, particularly in “Tomorrow,” could be stronger. Schuck offers just the right mix of bluster and vulnerability as Warbucks, and his commanding singing voice is used to great effect in “Something Was Missing” and “I Don’t Need Anything but You.”
Robertson is a memorable Hannigan, taking charge of the stage with a voice like Ethel Merman and the comedic bite of Elaine Stritch. Hannigan’s shenanigans in numbers such as “Little Girls” and “Easy Street” are a treat. Robertson gets every laugh, hits every note and steals every scene she’s in. Scott Willis is equally good as Hannigan’s brother, Rooster, making the smaller role seem much larger with a lithe yet menacing physical presence and humorous panache.
Elizabeth Broadhurst is perfectly cast as Warbucks’ secretary, Grace, and seems like a 1920s film star plucked directly from B&W into color. It’s hard to embody goodness and still be interesting, but Broadhurst manages this feat with style and obvious talent. Little Lindsay Ryan is adorable as the youngest orphan, Molly. Ed Romanoff and Christopher Vettel stand out within a strong ensemble.
Charles Strouse’s music, Charnin’s lyrics and Thomas Meehan’s book hold up admirably, a bit hipper and more clever than one might expect. Charnin and Strouse have added a new song, “Why Should I Change a Thing?,” for this production. Although Schuck sings it well, it adds little to the show.
Liza Gennaro’s choreography is demonstrated to wonderful effect in numbers such as “Annie” and “N.Y.C.,” and Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes are sumptuous and colorful. Ming Cho Lee’s set design is perhaps the most impressive part of this production, with tilted expressionist sets and fabulous artistic painted backdrops.