It’s safe to say that director and lyricist Martin Charnin has staged “Annie” more than anyone else on the planet, including the 1977 Broadway original. His 20th production of the iconic musical, which opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, manifests his intimacy with, and mastery of, the show.
True, there’s very little that’s new or revelatory about this warhorse, whose pail-and-mop dances have been butchered in high school and amateur productions the world over. Still, Charnin’s punched-up revival is witty, playful and highly entertaining, with gorgeous performances.
This “Annie” stars Issie Swickle as the freckle-faced title orphan who remains hopeful that she’ll reunite with the parents who abandoned her. She lives a rugged life in an orphanage that’s run like a prison camp by tipsy minder Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews).
Spunky Annie escapes, is caught by the police and returned to the group home at the holiday season, just as Grace Farrell (Ashley Edler), secretary to billionaire Daddy Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett), has come to fetch an orphan to join the family for Christmas.
Swickle and the other tykes deliver with fierceness in this production. They know the mean, preteen mocking that can cut the calmest of parents to the quick, and does so effectively for Miss Hannigan. Swickle’s early numbers, namely “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” and “Tomorrow,” are showstoppers. And she shows that she can be sweet and charming, as well, especially when she tries to get the attention of Grace Farrell.
Andrews, for her part, imbues Miss Hannigan with the requisite meanness. But she also finds the devilish sense of humor of her alcoholic character, even if it’s hard to empathize with a house mother who rips off the head of a doll at the end of her big number, “Little Girls.”
Director Charnin gets first-rate performances from all members of his cast, including an at once charming and brusque turn by Taggett as Warbucks. But what’s so striking about this “Annie” is that every moment is so well-considered.
There are tiny bits that give you sharp glimpses into the world of the characters. Miss Hannigan, for example, likes to listen to serials on the radio. When she turns it on in this production, which is choreographed by Liza Gennaro and sharply conducted by Kelly Ann Lambert, she sings the theme song and dances in her chair with her whole body. It may be just 20 or 30 seconds in a production, but it’s so beautiful and revelatory, you can’t help but smile.
Such details help to make what could be an old, tired story anything but.