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LA Theater Review

Annie

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This Tony-winning 1977 comic-strip musical has aged very well, thanks to its unashamedly heart-tugging story of a plucky orphan and the ebullient score by Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics). The Depression-era setting makes for incisive social satire, resulting in a vehicle that's more entertaining for adults than most people expect. The pungent political jabs in Thomas Meehan's book and the witty song "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover" strike resonant chords. The latest touring edition is a satisfactory rendition overall, as director Charnin refreshingly avoids a by-the-numbers rehash of his concepts from the Broadway original. Yet his revisit would benefit from sprightlier pacing and fine-tuning of certain performances.

The production's strongest suit is the virtuoso work of Conrad John Schuck as irascible billionaire Oliver Warbucks, a man who tries like hell to be curmudgeonly but keeps turning out lovable. Reprising a role he's played many times, Schuck has polished it to perfection. In the tradition of such Warbucks predecessors as Reid Shelton and Harve Presnell, he's graced with a rich, booming voice and delivers a captivatingly warm characterization. As the boozy, blowsy orphanage housemother, Miss Hannigan, Alene Robertson invests the role with suitable over-the-top bravado. She's a wonderful mugger in the Lucille Ball tradition, yet her comic timing is a smidgen off at times.

Mackenzie Phillips is unfortunately miscast as the dim-witted broad Lily St. Regis, coming across as uncomfortable and stiff. Her slimy cohort, Rooster, is adeptly played by the limber and amusing Scott Willis. Elizabeth Broadhurst is bubbly and charming as Warbucks' secretary and wannabe amour Grace Farrell. Allen Baker contributes a so-so turn as idealistic President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As the titular moppet, Marissa O'Donnell is a promising young performer and has fine moments but lacks charismatic oomph. The chorus line of precocious orphans is irresistible, whether indulging in mischief or cutting up in lively song-and-dance routines.

Except for the opulent final scene, Ming Cho Lee's sets are lackluster. Theoni V. Aldredge's original costume designs look sharp, augmented by Jimm Halliday's additions. Ken Billington's lighting is superb. Liza Gennaro's choreography, based on the original work of Peter Gennaro, is stylish and fun. The sun will likely come out on closer-to-perfect Annies, but kids-at-heart of all ages should be duly pleased with this effort.

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