If you’re involved in theater in any way, you don’t make it to age 41 without seeing Annie a few (dozen) times. And, if you’re like me, each time you go you’re both reminded how “fun” the show is and also how risky the production is to attend if you have any sort of an aversion to the whiney, nasally, sing-songy vocal patterns that tend to inflict every cast of orphans. Annie has a bit of everything; history (shockingly relevant), catchy songs (duh), periodesque costuming (lovely in this production), a real live dog (woof), comedy and it has stood the test of time for very obvious reasons, but if you can’t handle kids singing like most kids sing, even if it carries a solid Broadway San Jose stamp of approval, you aren’t going to miss anything by missing this production.
I’m sure there’s a special place in hell for anyone who criticizes child actors – their job is after all NOT easy and they are kids– but as hopeful as I was that a big budget, Broadway touring company would come through with an Annie I didn’t want to send to her room, I wasn’t able to help but flinch during most of her solos. All the orphans I thought sang great as a company (Hard Knock Life was a highlight despite wanting to rap for some reason throughout it) but the stand alone voices drove me bonkers.
The 2-dimensional comic in some ways has more color and depth than parts of this version. The show kind of relies on Annie being adorable and spunky and her spark with Grace and Daddy Warbucks. I really enjoyed this version of Daddy Warbucks, but I felt somehow the relationship between he and Annie didn’t have enough time to develop or that the chemistry wasn’t quite strong enough. No sparks, not enough dramatic arc for him or with Grace really, but I was entertained none the less. Lily had the right idea with an over the top almost farcical approach, but next to a bit more subdued Rooster and a Miss Hannigan that seemed to fluctuate between mimicking Carol Burnett and trying to play an authentic alcoholic though-line, again the chemistry seemed off, rushed and inconsistent. Maybe Sandy the dog needed more stage time, but even he (she) seemed to be calling it in at times – opting to scratch an ear just as he broke the stage right-wing for a good 5 seconds before completing his cross. But, I guess you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.
The most enjoyable aspects of the performance surprised me quite frankly. I found the adult ensemble to be very entertaining with fabulous energy and comic timing well beyond the material they had to work with. Additionally, they were relatively skilled at transforming into multiple roles, a device I normally don’t buy in the least. This was helped along by great costuming and wigs, clever choreography and real commitment from the cast. The voices of the adults were all good, the dancing skills too, and the sets didn’t wow but did exactly what they needed to do. The sound and lights have very little challenges too and the orchestra was spot on.
Are kids going to like it? Sure. Will adults enjoy it? They will certainly be able to tolerate it for 2 hours and 15 minutes for their kid’s sake. Is it a good, family-friendly evening out that nurtures the little stars in your little ones? Yes. Was it something for me to write home about? I couldn’t help think this production fell flat in more ways than not. A slightly disappointing 3 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a show that came in below my hopes, but still sent me home fully dressed with a smile and humming many of the numbers. Annie plays through tonight (Sunday) at 6:30 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.