November 13, 2017
One can hardly believe it’s been forty years since ‘Annie’opened at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) on West 52nd Street in Manhattan. What was even more improbable, was viewing Andrea McArdle (creator of 11-year-old Annie in 1977) as she starred in the Gateway (Bellport) revival of ‘Anything Goes’ last year. How stunning that McArdle, now an all-grown-up 53 years of age, still prances about the stage like a teenager! Andrea is one of those legends who, like 2016’s Encore-winning show, ‘Anything Goes,’ just doesn’t age.
And now, courtesy of Northport’s plush Engeman Theater, we get to see first-hand that ‘Annie’too, is as fresh and vibrant as ever. Which is saying something … because the 1977 boffo hit was nominated for an eye-popping eleven Tony Awards—and won seven—including Best Musical!
Is it any wonder that the show ran for 2,377 performances? That translates to nearly six continuous years … at the time, a record for the 1500-seat Alvin Theatre. Figure about a million seatings, and close to a hundred million bucks at the box office (if my calculations add up). Not even ‘Snoopy’ … ‘L’il Abner’ … or the irrepressible ‘Spider Man’ … could come close to ‘Little Orphan Annie’ as a comic strip-based Broadway attraction.
The story line in this gem of a Depression Era musical (lyrics by Martin Charnin, music by Charles Strouse) has pre-teen Annie escaping from the orphanage where she lives, in a laundry bag thrown over the shoulder of a deliveryman. She winds up in the home of wealthy … and well-connected … Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks, who reluctantly warms to her. From there on, the thin plot becomes improbably political, but this is a musical, after all, and the tale provides ample opportunities for appropriately uplifting ballads … especially the number that has become the international anthem of optimism, ‘Tomorrow.’
This production is directed and choreographed by Engeman veteran Antoinette Dipietropolo (better choreographed than directed, it seems), and it features a sterling performance by George Dvorsky as ‘Daddy’ Warbucks. Someone once implied that it’s theatrical suicide to compete with kids or dogs on stage. But in ‘Annie’ Dvorsky takes on both … and holds his own quite well indeed. This multi-talented actor proves to be the flat-out chairman of the boards in what has become one of the most widely esteemed musicals ever staged … the New York Times estimates that ‘Annie’ is produced around 800 times in this country … every year! That’s popularity, folks.
The kudos for Dvorsky aside, it should not be concluded that Presley Ryan in any way takes a back seat with her interpretation of Annie in the demanding title role. To the contrary, the young lady fills the bill of the perky little redhead convincingly and then some. The same is true for Lynn Andrews, who plays the deliciously mean antagonist, ‘Miss Hannigan,’ and gives us someone to hiss at. Without Andrews’ Dickensian presence to balance the several loveable characters on this show’s endearing roster, the plot would suffer greatly.
Significantly, ‘Annie’ runs right thru Christmas, and the production’s festive lighting, period costumes, choreography (and that elevating score) make it a good choice for presentation over the holidays. Combined with ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Star Playhouse in Commack (thru November 19) … and the perennial fixture ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Theatre Three (which, as always, will play to packed houses thru December 30th), local audiences once again can expect to be treated to the very best in Broadway-caliber entertainment.
In short, ‘Annie’ helps make this a wonderful time to experience legitimate theater on Long Island.