"Annie" is back, and it’s more than just overplayed hits. Part musical fantasy time capsule, part political commentary, the 37-year-old show feels strangely relevant in a post-recession world. More importantly, the freshly revived touring production is a polished machine designed to entertain. Based on Harold Gray’s Depression-era comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," "Annie" tells the rags-to-riches tale of a gold-hearted 11-year-old orphan named Annie who warms the heart of a billionaire and, subsequently, the nation. The plot ranges from uplifting to ludicrous, such as Annie serving as the inspiration for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, but the heart of the show is the songs and dancing.
Choreographer Lisa Gennaro’s (daughter of original choreographer, Peter Gennaro) steps pop to Charles Strouse’s Cole Porter-inspired musical score. And original director Martin Charnin returns after nearly four decades to invest new life into the show.
As the title character, understudy Adia Dant did a remarkably serviceable job opening night. Dant understandably relied on her costars — including the adorable rescue dog Sunny as her pup, Sandy — to do the emotional heavy lifting, but she nailed every note and never missed a step.
Michigan native Gilgamesh Taggett played Annie’s guardian Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks with the perfect blend of fatherly love that never crossed into creepy. But Lynn Andrews gave the evening’s standout performance as Annie’s foil, orphanage caretaker Miss Hannigan. As a bitter woman on the brink of a mental breakdown, Andrews brings rich darkness to the song "Little Girls" along with fluid kick to the showstopper "Easy Street." Other strong performances come from the chorus of orphans who infuse "It’s the Hard Knock Life" with electric energy.
Somehow "Annie’s" 1933 setting serves as a reminder of how cyclical history can be. Warbucks’ plea to FDR to intervene in the economy eerily echoed the General Motors bailout. But "Annie" is an escapist musical at heart, and this production makes time disappear.
Wharton welcomes ‘Annie’ back for trip down memory lane