By Wendy Rosenfield
for the Inquirer
The current touring production of Annie marks the 19th time since its 1977 Tony-sweeping Broadway run Martin Charnin directs the show. At this point, it's a well-oiled machine, and whether it's because of all that youthful orphan enthusiasm, Beowulf Borritt's lushly painted backdrops, or the irresistible affection for the material shown by its adult principals, that machine still shines like the top of the Chrysler Building.
Despite its recent Jamie Foxx/Cameron Diaz update, Depression-era economics are still relevant to kids who pass homeless Philadelphians on their way into the Academy of Music's gilded interior. Of course, the safe Freudian wish-fulfillment of parent-free adventure also remains timeless among children whose parents are kind enough to take them to Broadway musicals. But Charles Strouse's and Charnin's songs hit just about three generations of present and former little girls right in the nostalgia zone, and between the powerhouse delivery of Lynn Andrews' take-no-prisoners Miss Hannigan and Gilgamesh Taggett's burly, brusque Oliver Warbucks, this tour is nearly a bull's eye.
The misses? Well, to paraphrase a former Philadelphian and Warbucks contemporary, W.C. Fields, it's best never to review animals or children. Luckily, neither orphans nor Sandy (played by a pair of dogs named Sunny and Macy, whose inspirational online bios are truly worth a read) fall short here, and Lilly Mae Stewart's house pipsqueak Molly seems to be having a blast onstage, which makes the show all the more enjoyable. Still, Charnin's direction of the girls tends toward the hammy, and while Issie Swickle's Annie performs with the aplomb of a full-grown professional, her singing voice tends toward the nasal, though when she leaves it behind and heads into "Tomorrow," she's a first-class belter.
Garrett Deagon's Rooster Hannigan delivers the show's least compelling performance, with little of the sleazy, unctuous appeal that defines the role and makes "Easy Street" the showstopper it ought to be. Nonetheless, Lucy Werner's Lily St. Regis maintains the Dumb Dora act just fine, and, on the opposite end of the show's blonde spectrum, Ashley Edler, as Warbucks' personal assistant Grace Farrell, clad in costumer Suzy Benzinger's sleek Chanel-inspired suits, cloches and gowns, supplies ample warmth.
This production also feels like an homage to a classic, which, in a way, it is, and was, even in the '70s. There's still something thrilling--even if you're aware of the current price of a cup of third-wave artisanal Manhattan joe--about the glorious outline of the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park's treetops as seen from Warbucks' penthouse, and the cast crooning Strouse and Charnin's ode to "NYC," in which a gal can hop off a bus with three bucks, two bags and start chasing her dreams. It happened once, right? Maybe it can happen again. In Annie, there's plenty of wish-fulfillment to go around.