A hesitant trumpet squeezes out the melody of “Tomorrow,” welcoming the Minneapolis Orpheum Theater audience to the tired, uninspired 2015 tour of the beloved musical Annie. Running March 31st – April 5th, Annie lacks its usual charm and nostalgic grandeur, as if Martin Charnin, having directed the show 19 times, finally got bored. There are moments of magic, but they are surrounded by overdone, underperformed clichés.
The elements of production that make less thought-provoking musicals (such as Annie, let’s be honest) worth watching include good talent, choreography, and set design. Annie has only one of these, which is not enough. The choreography, by Liza Gennaro, looks like a high school production – all hands and poor use of the stage. The chorus, made up of at most 10 people, stand in formation as they do variations on jazz hands/squares, using the stage only to stand in a different formation. Songs known and loved for their big dance breaks and large chorus, such as “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” and “N.Y.C.,” are reduced to short, unimpressive numbers that are over before they even begin. Compared to what is expected, not only from other versions of Annie but from musicals in general, this choreography is a big disappointment.
The sets, designed by Beowulf Boritt, have a suburban high school feel that matches the choreography. Painted onto large panels with only a few pieces of actual set, I imagine these sets being created by overly involved PTA parents. The most unrealistic is that of New York during the musical number “N.Y.C.” While the lyrics describe specific sites that billionaire Oliver Warbucks is showing little orphan Annie, the set displays a black and white painted backdrop of nondescript buildings, cars, and flailing signs. This song, which should be one of the most exciting moments of the show, is a hot mess full of unrealistic, confusing set pieces.
Despite the production flaws, the talent is phenomenal. Annie is played by Issie Swickle who, at only 9 years old, brings an innocent, warm side to Annie that is usually lost in older Annies. Her voice is still able to reach the high belted notes in a sweet, warm timber, unlike 12 year old Lila Crawford (of the 2012 Broadway revival) or 14 year old Andrew McArdle (of the 1977 original Broadway cast), whose voices had developed a sharper timber by the time they played Annie. Warbucks and his assistant Grace, played by Gilgamesh Taggett and Ashley Edler, bring perfectly wonderful performances to these characters which aren’t necessarily the most interesting in the first place. Lynn Andrews, in the role of drunk orphan matron Miss Hannigan, presents the most developed, original character of the lot. Whereas many other performers, although talented, simply portray a familiar version of their character, Andrews makes Miss Hannigan her own.
As the only person of color in this cast, Andrews sheds light on the biggest issue with this production of Annie, its lack of diversity. I must warn you now, if you are anticipating seeing this tour ofAnnie because you expect it to follow suit after the successfully diverse 2014 movie remake or the less well-known but still quite diverse 2012 revival, you will be greatly disappointed. Instead of getting on board with the new trend that has only been improving this show and expanded its audience, adding people of color, this tour decided to go for what’s easier: hiring (almost) all white performers. This laziness and lack of originality can be seen in every aspect of the show.
Don’t get me wrong, the kids will still love it. There are still parts that will make you tear up and remember why this musical has lasted so long. However, like any other musical that has run its course,Annie has begun to show signs of fatigue.