Theatre Review (Baltimore): ‘Annie’ – The Musical Soars

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OK, as I look outside on this dreary, dreary day, all I can think is “The sun will come out tomorrow…” Baltimore’s France-Merrick 2015 Broadway Season starts off with one of my all time favorite musicals, Annie. After listening to the abominable soundtrack for Sony’s recent modern take on Annie, it’s nice to see a return to innocence and the music we all know and love. No one asked for a hip-hop dance mix of “Tomorrow”!

This production of the musical has everything the recent movie lacked – heart, exuberant performances, and gorgeous sets designed by Beowulf Boritt (Rock of Ages). The show’s production pedigree also includes a book by three-time Tony Award-winning Thomas Meehan (Hairspray and The Producers), direction and lyrics by Martin Charnin, costumes by Suzy Benzinger (Blue Jasmine and Movin’ Out) and sound design by Peter Hylenksi (Rocky, Motown). Considering how the recent film completely butchered this classic, I held my breath as the lights went down. On the positive side, this isn’t “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Annie.”

The classic image of curly haired, red dress-clad Annie seems to be permanently etched in my brain. At first I found headliner Issie Swickle’s (Annie) short, straight hair a bit hard to get used to. However the minute she launches into the melancholy, but hopeful “Maybe,” all fears are instantly pushed aside. Issie Swickle delivers big time on all the classics and knocks it out of the park during her first go-around with “Tomorrow.”

Annie the Musical

It always amazes me how these child performers seem mature beyond their years. Watching her performance gave me a weird sort of double vision. I thought I was watching a 40-year-old woman and not a precocious nine-year-old from Davies, Florida. The cast also includes the wiry Garrett Deagon (Rooster Hannigan), Gilgamesh Taggett (Oliver Warbucks), and of course Sandy the dog. Other standout moments include Lynn Andrews’ (Miss Hannigan) show-stopping version of the classic hate song “Little Girls.” Never thought of “Little Girls” as a show-stopping number but somehow Andrews managed to work it out.

Annie the Musical
Lynn Andrews as Miss Hannigan in “Little Girls.” Photo by Joan Marcus

 

The funny thing about this story as a musical is how repetitive the music actually is. All the favorites – “It’s A Hard Knock Life”, “Tomorrow”, “Easy Street”, “Maybe” and more – are performed at least three times during the course of the show. Normally I’d complain about the repetitive nature of the score, but I’m a sucker for this one. It is impossible not to have these songs stuck in your head for many days after the show.

Annie is part of The Hippodrome’s Broadway season; upcoming shows include Chicago, Wicked, Dirty Dancing and Pippin. Check out www.baltimorehippodrome.com for subscription information. Visit http://anniethemusical.com/ for more information on this national tour. Annie is at the Hipprodome through February 1, 2015.