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Review: 'Annie' at the Kodak Theatre

January 14, 2009 |  3:30 pm

Annie_and_daddy_warbucksThey came in updos, tulle, tiaras and pink. They sat on laps and sang along. If the hordes of young girls who showed up for Tuesday's opening night of “Annie” are any indication, the show, playing through Sunday at the Kodak Theatre , is a hot ticket for the under-12 crowd.

Set in 1933, this Tony-sweeping musical debuted in 1977, and its themes of economic uncertainty and presidential impotence resonate once again. It’s Christmastime in Manhattan, but the Santas are thin, and no one can spare a dime for the apple seller. At the Municipal Orphanage, Annie (Madison Kerth, alternating with Amanda Balon) clings to the hope that her lost parents will someday come to reclaim her. Meanwhile, she and her cohorts subvert the iron rule of Miss Hannigan (Lynn Andrews), a harridan with a perpetual hangover.

Fate intervenes when Annie is chosen to spend the holiday with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (David Barton), who finds her company more compelling than the Commander-in-Chief’s (Jeffrey B. Duncan as an agreeably daffy FDR). But despite having a titan under her thumb, Annie yearns for her real family, and Miss Hannigan plans to profit from her former charge’s pain.

With music by Charles Strouse (“Bye Bye Birdie”), lyrics by Martin Charnin (the show’s original director, who also staged this 30th anniversary production), and a book by Thomas Meehan (“The Producers”), “Annie” has a classic Broadway pedigree and two timeless numbers, “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.” But its fundamental appeal is watching a bunch of girls take over a big stage from the grown-ups to sing and dance their hearts out.

Annie2008006 “Annie” works as a child’s fantasy of mastery: triumphing over emotional deprivation, acquiring a parent with infinite resources, and being the absolute center of attention even when the leader of the free world is around.

This new production has a visual sense of scale as well, thanks to Ming Cho Lee’s strong diagonal set design: a Hooverville under the metal arc of the Brooklyn Bridge, the gothic slant of the orphanage walls, and the Warbucks mansion’s grand curve of a staircase.

As is often the case with tours, this “Annie” is a little lacking in distinct personality, but it’s always solid and occasionally very charming. Kerth has an impressive voice, hits her marks with confidence and doesn’t play too cute. Barton’s Warbucks turns out to be the emotional center of this production, his simplicity lending the show a much-needed vulnerability. There are also deft turns from Ricky Pope as Warbucks’ butler, Analisa Leaming as the tycoon’s executive assistant, and the pint-sized Mackenzie Aladjem as a vehement orphan. And yes, Sandy the Dog (Mikey) upstages everyone.

Can Depression-era Annie, with her shapeless hobowear, unfortunate perm and apparent lack of interest in a recording career, hold the attention of kids raised on Hannah Montana and Beyoncé? Bet your bottom dollar on this redhead with eternal pluck: You’re likely to get a better return at the Kodak than anywhere on Wall Street.

--Charlotte Stoudt

“Annie,” Kodak Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday though Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $27.50-$85. (213) 480-3232. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Top photo: Madison Kerth and David Barton. Credit: Phil Martin. Bottom photo: Zander Meisner, Lynn Andrews and Cheryl Hoffman. Credit: Peter Coombs