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Review: Jane Lynch Joins the Cast of “Annie”

June 18th, 2013 Comments off

The Broadway Blog’s editor Matthew Wexler is hopeful that the sun will come out tomorrow now that Jane Lynch has joined the cast of Annie. Looks like it’s partly cloudy…

Jane Lynch as Miss Hannigan in "Annie." (photo: Joan Marcus)

Jane Lynch as Miss Hannigan in “Annie.” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Annie was the first “real” musical I ever saw. It was the 2nd National Tour and it starred Marisa Morell (who is now a literary agent and producer). I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday but I remember her name — that is the impact that Annie had on me as a twinkle-eyed musical theater wannabee.

The legacy continues with this past season’s revival and scores of young girls from across the country vied for the little redhead who could. Lilla Crawford won the title role but the show opened to mixed reviews. Ben Brantley of The New York Times, while critical, seemed to caress the show with a gentle hand in light of it’s opening shortly after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City.

Brantley wrote of the director, “It would seem that Mr. Lapine is hoping to introduce at least a tincture of psychological shading to a show that is only, and unapologetically, a singing comic strip. In its first incarnation “Annie” was an unstoppable sunshine steamroller. This version, which flirts with shadows, moves more shakily.”

“The show’s scenic design (by David Korins), which relies largely on two-dimensional cutouts, and choreography (by Andy Blankenbuehler) can come across as sketchy and unfocused,” he summed up. “The dance routines and visual jokes are sometimes presented hesitantly and register only peripherally. And adults in the audience may occasionally feel unsettled by some of the reimagined characterizations on display.”

Now Jane Lynch has stepped into the role of Miss Hannigan. Originally played by Dorothy Loudon (who won a Tony for her performance) and subsequently by Carol Burnett and Kathy Bates, among others, Lynch has her hands full with such villainous pedigree.

I can only image what she might have delivered with a different director and a proper rehearsal process. Towering among the orphans, Lynch undoubtedly has stage presence but it gets lost amid a thin characterization, stiff staging and a clunky set that should have been scrapped before it was built.

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Lilla Crawford as Annie and Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbucks. (photo: Joan Marcus)

The supporting cast rises to the occasion to keep things chugging along but it is evident that even after running for more than seven months, Lapine’s dismal vision continues to clash with the inherent hopefulness of the source material.

A few gems keep the production buoyant, led by the charming and heartfelt performance of Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbucks. The Tony Award nominating committee regretfully ignored Warlow’s booming performance and it’s a shame, as his theatrical craftsmanship is one of the show’s highlights.

While the show may be bumpy, the night I saw it there was a five-year-old girl celebrating her birthday in front of me and another young audience member to my right. Both were enraptured throughout and it was a joy to observe them experiencing the magic of Broadway for the first time.

 

 

 

We’re Not Kiddin’ Around: Take a Kid to Broadway

January 10th, 2013 Comments off

The year is 1981. My parents have a subscription to the Broadway series in Cleveland, Ohio.

The first show we see? “Annie,” of course. For the next three months I can be found singing “Tomorrow” in the stairwell of our split-level suburban home. Several months later they take me to see the second show in the series, “La Cage Aux Folles.” Seriously. I spend the rest of the summer belting out “I Am What I Am” with a towel wrapped around my head like Tallulah Bankhead.

Clearly ahead of their time, my parents will be happy to know that The Broadway League (with The New York Times as presenting sponsor) will enable children to see a Broadway show for free from Monday, February 25 through Sunday, March 3.
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WNET/Thirteen Launches “Annie” Educational Website

October 1st, 2012 Comments off

"Annie" Educational Website. Image via Thirteen.

My theatrical friends, prepare to lose valuable work time because there’s a new procrastination destination on the web.

New York’s PBS station WNET/Thirteen, in partnership with the producers of the upcoming revival of Annie, today launched an immersive online experience for “kids” designed to introduce them to Broadway and provide an historical context for the show’s depression era setting. Judging by the hour I just lost clicking around the site, I think they might be limiting their audience; it’s a hoot for theater queens, history buffs or anyone who has ever belted out “Tomorrow” at the top of their lungs. (I have recordings of my 8 year old self doing just that — boy soprano belter that I was.)

In my first frenzied exploration I:

  • learned that I’m a master of 30’s era slang but can’t tell a Pepper from a Molly in two fun quizzes (with applause ringing out after every correct answer);
  • downloaded a recipe book featuring “mush” and “baked alaska” which will now be the inspiration for an Annie-themed dinner party (though I’ll have to find my cocktail recipes elsewhere…it is PBS after all);
  • watched charming (and actually informative) video interviews with the likes of director James Lapine and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler highlighting who does what on a Broadway show;
  • and, coolest of all, took a tour of 1930’s New York City, with before and after images that will astonish and make you a little misty eyed (the Roxy is now a TGIF!?)

All of this info is, of course, intended to promote the Broadway production and an upcoming PBS making-of documentary, It’s the Hard-Knock Life: From Script to Stage, but the site doesn’t push the hard sell. And that’s no bunco!

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Fall Preview 2012, The Musicals

September 5th, 2012 Comments off

The Cast of "Chaplin". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Buckle up, boys and girls! The theater season is about to get up and rolling so we’ve got a two part preview of the tunes and tears the Great White Way has to offer through the end of the year. Since the first show out of the gate post-Labor Day is a musical, let’s start with a closer look at the originals and revivals singing and dancing onto Broadway during the rest of 2012.

On a quick glance, the slate is…well…a bit like the island of misfit toys; a curiosity chest of pieces with unusual histories from less than name brand writers. But one never knows until the curtain goes up what we truly have in store; the oddest ducks (or Cats) can sometimes turn out to be blockbusters.

Chaplin (September 10): One of Hollywood’s first mega-stars gets the first slot of the season in what promises to be a splashy theatrical biography. The biggest news is that the lead is being played by a relative unknown (almost unheard of in these marquee driven times), Rob McClure. Also in the plus column, a book co-written by musical vet Thomas Meehan (Hairspray) and supporting turns from the recent Closer than Ever dynamic duo Jenn Colella and Christiane Noll…as well as our very own Theater Buff, Wayne Wilcox.

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