Ageless ‘Annie’ Delights Broadway; ‘Sorry’: Jeremy Gerard

Lilla Crawford as the title role in "Annie," and Sunny as her dog Sandy. The revival is running at the Palace Theatre. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Beware the child who says “Aw, gee!” with a plaintive sigh. There’s cunning at work behind those words that can reduce even a hard-shell capitalist like Oliver Warbucks to mush.

The words are uttered by orphan Annie, in the person of Lilla Crawford, a spindle-legged trouper with a Merman-size voice and an irresistible glint of show-biz hunger in her eyes.

In the extraordinarily entertaining revival of “Annie” that has now opened on Broadway, Daddy Warbucks (the gruffly charming Australian star Anthony Warlow) has met his match.

Annie has just been shuttled from the grim city orphanage ruled by the demented Miss Hannigan of Katie Finneran to Warbucks’s Fifth Avenue palazzo for the Christmas holiday. It’s the heart of the Great Depression.

Warbucks has been advised to soften his image by renting a cute kid for a couple of weeks. He fully expects to hand off care of the girl to his faithful amanuensis, Grace (the ingratiating Brynn O’Malley).

But when he proposes that Grace take her to a movie, Annie lets loose with that, “Aw, gee!” in a moan that’s almost a howl, and Warbucks is a goner. He decides not only to take her himself, but that it’s a great night for a brisk, 40-block walk through his favorite town. As they stroll, he sings “NYC,” Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s unheralded paean to the city.

Not Sinatra

It’s neither as bombastic as Kander and Ebb’s “New York, New York” nor as clever as Bernstein, Comden and Green’s earlier ode of the same name (“The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down/The people ride in a hole in the ground”).

But in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the shadow of a brutal election, “NYC” -- like the show that surrounds it --is a tonic: “The shadows at sundown, the roofs that touch the sky/The rich and the rundown, the parade that goes by.”

You may curse Strouse for melodies that refuse to leave your head for days after the show -- especially the wretched “Tomorrow” but also such winners as the ones about a hard-knock life and the plaintive “Maybe.”

But what I took away from “Annie” 35 years after first seeing it, in addition to the perfect chemistry of a terrific ensemble, is director James Lapine’s seamless weaving of visual and aural effects.

Comic Strip

The brilliant designer David Korins pays homage to the story’s comic-strip roots with Constructivist sets that swing open like the pages of an album, and adds such enchanting touches as a chandelier that unfolds into a Christmas tree before our eyes. Donald Holder’s lighting favors boldness over shadow and Susan Hilferty’s restrained costumes give personality to each character while avoiding parody.

Lapine and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler avoid overpopulated production numbers that sweeten the syrup; the show has a welcome, slightly citric tang. Finneran is more Mrs. Lovett then the jolly drunk of previous Miss Hannigans. Mess with her and you might just end up in a meat pie. And that was just fine by me.

Have I mentioned the canine actor? At the performance I saw, Sandy, played by a mutt named Sunny, definitely had his own ideas about blocking his part. That was fine by me, too.

At the Palace Theatre, Broadway at 47th Street. Information: +1-877-250-2929; Rating: ****

Apple Family

I spent election night with the Apple family in the Hudson Valley hamlet of Rhinebeck, New York. I’d last been with them on Sept. 11, 2011. Playwright Richard Nelson’s fictional siblings - - three sisters and a brother, just like Chekhov -- appear at the Public Theater on important nights and in real time.

“Sorry” is Nelson’s almost unbearably poignant reflection on the inseparably intertwined states of a family’s and a nation’s existential misgivings. The long single act takes place between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. on the morning of the election.

There are up-to-the-minute references to Hurricane Sandy and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as the Apples gather around the breakfast table.

But the task of “Sorry” is in revealing how Barbara (Maryann Plunkett), Marian (Laila Robins), Jane (J. Smith-Cameron) and Richard (Jay O. Sanders) will deal with committing their Uncle Benjamin (the astonishing Jon DeVries), a onetime actor whose dementia is leading into dangerous territory -- to a home.

Politics barely snuck in until the end, when Richard, a New York City lawyer, said of the campaign, “The way I see it now is that most people seem to just want somebody who can articulate their hatreds.”

You only have one more week to eavesdrop on the thoughtful, moving conversations imagined by one of our most gifted playwrights, directing an unparalleled ensemble. It will cost you $15. Don’t miss them.

Through Nov. 18 at the Public Theater Lab, 425 Lafayette St. Information: +1-212-967-7555; Rating: *****

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include movies and New York weekend.

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