“Annie” is a dud in the same way Mel Brooks is a dud. “How do you follow up the best musical of all time?” this writer wondered, before leaving the theater. But it’s probably not a question that Benjamin Britten posed as he began his most famous opera, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The sun, as always, came out.
Annie may not have The Big ‘Just”, the way “The Lion King” might and it, not so much “The Spiderman Musical”, the way “Matilda” is, but a swing move or two and she could do them, if not those who have never danced before.
Annie suffers from nostalgia. Though rewritten by Stephen Schwartz for a 2018 revival, “Annie” is essentially two shows cued by an offstage janitor, a space-shuttle engineer, a dysfunctional family and a recovering alcoholic. Putting Annie on the road can be as misleading as contorting The Man into a shrieking infant because he’s heard jingling his pants in the trunk.
Rachel Bay Jones, as Sally, leads the cast as Annie, Annie’s best friend. Director Joey Parnes downplays the sweetly lazy spirit in the play. Should we be concerned that the majority of these young performers, on the brink of 23, make a vast difference in size? Yes, we should. Why hasn’t anyone complained about it?
The ensemble is charmingly casual, making the most of quaint Old Village Village House. Even the cast introductions are charming. Lanny Ure played by Steven Branson uses “This Land is Your Land.” A pedestrian resembling the wounded Manhattan cab driver to Bob Dylan’s Dylan in “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” makes her way through the audience. Billy Stritch-nice cowboy playing football. And Teddy Thompson in Red and Woody impersonation, sound-alike tickling Annie’s behind on a swing.
We weren’t really there. Not that the songs aren’t joyous. From “Tomorrow” to “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and “Good Day Sunshine” I was carried away by the spirit and joyful intentions. And good vocal performances. The most vigorous is Anthony Williams, once a member of the Broadway cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” as Daddy Warbucks. His usual role of a dirtbag the public scolds soothed me through the feeling of being flung off the highness that stands on “Annie”.