Events in the real world are making Broadway look mesmerizingly attractive these days. Better yet, a Broadway road company touring an "oldie," coming to a theatre near you. Annie arrived at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco a few days after New Orleans was turned back into a swamp. The house was filled with adults. Belting orphanettes, a trained dog, Daddy Warbucks, FDR and a villainess/lush. What could be more therapeutic?
It may have been because it was opening night, but even the cast looked alive in this production. Cartoon characters work on stage when there’s dancing and singing to prop them up, but it makes a difference when actors actually do something with these depthless parts. Alene Robertson, as Miss Hannigan, the aforementioned villainess/lush, knows how to force an audience into submission. Laughter works faster than Zoloft.
Chunky rather than towering, (other Miss Hannigans have been more spinsterly and vulturelike), Robertson is so masterful a physical comedian, she can make the act of sitting seem like a statement of character. Her gestures are broad and her songs are terrific. When she meets FDR she humbles herself with such ridiculous extremity it is hilarious. There’s plenty to like about this production of Annie, but the best thing is Alene Robertson.
The book, setting the action in a Depression-deadened 1933 Manhattan, takes some of the saccharine off the otherwise kids-and-a-dog-style-cuteness by adding the grit of (singing and dancing) homeless folk, and the appearance of a knife. Still, isn’t what we really care about the high notes sung by little Annie during her big song, "Tomorrow"? Can she out-warble the original 1977 Annie, Andrea McArdle? Does she look 11? Marissa O’Donnell was all of the above. Her singing voice had the appropriate amount of pre-teen shrill, but always with overtones of prettiness, the little girl inside the hardened orphan. Her opening ballad, "Maybe" was actually touching. What more can you ask from a musical? Tears, laughter, little girls, a dog?
As touring machines go, this group offered a refreshing dose of talent and committed performances. For a few hours, the ubiquitous images crowded into our brains, the horrors constantly unreeling on CNN, were replaced by a little girl in a red wig singing hokey words of hope. "The sun will come out…". It was enough. It was exactly enough.