Monday, November 24, 2014

Yesterday, Today and "Tomorrow": 'Annie' Remains a Show for the Ages (All of Them) -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru November 30

Because it is a musical about a kid, Annie is perhaps largely perceived as a musical for kids.

And while the original Broadway production won multiple Tony Awards--including Best Musical--and ran for 6 years, the 1977 show may seem somewhat quaint compared to the musicals that would follow, whether super-sized productions such as Phantom of the Opera & Les Miserables, musicals incorporating rock scores and, even in a kid-oriented vein, Disney screen-to-stage adaptations.

But in seeing Annie--somewhat surprisingly to me for just the second time--in a new touring production running through Sunday at Chicago's Cadillac Palace theater, I was gleefully reminded that although it is probably the best "starter musical" for kids, it really should delight musical theater lovers of any age. 

First of all, the score with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin--who directs this production much as he has numerous times since Annie's inception--is truly sensational.

"Tomorrow" is one of those songs that once was so ubiquitous it still feels almost embarrassing to hear it, like it and love its sentiment. But yet I do.

Tunes like "Maybe," "It's the Hard Knock Life," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," "N.Y.C." and "I Don't Need Anyone But You" are also fantastic, while songs chronicling Depression-era woes--such as "We'd Like to Thank You" (...Herbert Hoover)--still feel far more relevant and resonant than they ideally should.

Photo credit on all: Joan Marcus
It's hard to think of many recent musicals with scores anywhere near as strong as Annie's.

But an abundance of great songs all the more demands a gaggle of great singers, and one might have reason to be wary of a non-Equity cast featuring numerous children and few adults with particularly impressive credits.

Perhaps I wasn't all that discerning from the last row of upper balcony, but Issie Swickle seemed delightful in the title role, imbuing Annie with requisite amounts of charm and chutzpah while belting out "Tomorrow," "Maybe" and other songs with panache.

Lynn Andrews makes for a quite likably unlikable Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage where Annie lives as the show opens, while the wonderfully-named Gilgemesh Taggett is a rather standard but in no way deficient Daddy Warbucks.

If ever I could reveal plot details without wariness, it would seem to be for a 37-year-old musical based on an 80-year-old comic strip, with a 1982 movie adaptation and a new one coming out next month. But if you don't already know what happens in Annie, why should I ruin it for you now?

In addition to the music, the book by Thomas Meehan--who would collaborate on The Producers years later--holds up well, and even for those of us familiar with it, the story is fun to follow.

One certainly can't call this tour any sort of revisionist production, but that seems somewhat purposeful as Charnin opted to remount the original staging for the upteenth time, rather than base this outing on the 2012 Broadway revival, which supposedly tried some different things that didn't go over so well.

If you can't get to Annie in Chicago during this Thanksgiving week, odds are pretty solid that there will be additional chances in years to come.

But despite being a non-Equity rendition devoid of Actors Union performers, this rendition has a sizable orchestra and didn't feel lacking in any significant way.

Annie remains a first-rate show that should be a joy for all ages, including youngsters.

That it's also something of a holiday show only adds to the aptness to take the family, or just yourself, if you can fit it into your schedule and budget.

So why not tomorrow?

After all, it's only a day away.


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