A recent matinee audience saw crowds lining the street as they exited Theatre Arlington. The crowds were early arrivals for the city of Arlington's annual Christmas parade. But they might well have been theater lovers hoping to score tickets to Theatre Arlington's robust revival of Annie. Seats are in short supply for the musical, with some performances sold out in advance.
The reason why is no mystery. Here is an ideal holiday family show. And the TA staging by director Melanie Mason glistens both visually and musically.
The title character, of course, is Little Orphan Annie, from the venerable comic strip of the same name. Thomas Meehan's script for the 1977 Broadway show is set in the early 1930s. Annie is selected to spend the Christmas fortnight at the Manhattan mansion of Oliver Warbucks, the multi-billionaire industrialist, to the delight of her orphan chums and to the utter disgust of Miss Hannigan, the evil, kid-hating director of the orphanage.
Said orphan girls lead a "Hard Knock Life," a dynamite number featuring luminous Sarah Youngblood as Annie and an ensemble of orphan girls who are as nimble as they are adorable. Choreographer Laura West Strawser throws them plenty of intricate, athletic moves, and they come through like champs. They're an excellent bunch of girls, with 6-year-old Miriam Fease ranking as the most awww-inspiring.
Youngblood delivers the vocal and acting goods on Annie's signature song, "Tomorrow." And she accomplishes this while "herding" the fidgeting canine portraying Annie's dog, Sandy.
Neil Mowles, a skilled comic actor and a fine singer, blends those elements into a superb portrait of Warbucks. Mowles hits the mark in numbers as diverse as the grandiose "N.Y.C.," which also showcases a first-rate chorus, and the wistful "Something Was Missing." His portrayal will banish all memory of the embarrassingly miscast Albert Finney in the movie version of Annie.
Jenny Thurman is terrific in a full-throttle performance as Miss Hannigan, who between pulls at the booze bottle laments her unwanted association with "Little Girls." This actress is not petite, but she hops up on tables with the agility of a gymnast. Thurman joins Ben Phillips, a knockout as Hannigan's swindler brother, and Kim Borge, as his floozy companion, on the wickedly tuneful "Easy Street."
Morgan Mabry Mason is crisply efficient, yet tender and vulnerable as Grace, Warbuck's secretary who wouldn't mind being Annie's stepmom and you-know-who's wife.
This production does not overcome the cornball sentiment of Annie. It celebrates it, as when Annie reprises "Tomorrow" for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his cabinet. Dennis Maher, as FDR, juggles satire and sentiment adroitly here and elsewhere.
Lon Barrera has contagious fun with the role of Drake, the stiffly formal butler who warms to the orphan guest. And Michael Durington excels in a passel of parts, most notably the unctuous radio host who asserts that "You're Never Fully Dressed without a Smile." (The orphan ensemble reprises this number superbly.)
Set designer Bob Lavallee runs a Depression-era gamut from Hooverville shanties to Chez Warbucks opulence. (You'll never miss the huge staircase from the Broadway and touring productions.) Music director Don Powers makes good use of recorded tracts of the Charles Strouse score, and director Mason's cast warms to the Martin Charnin lyrics.
Annie is currently being revived on Broadway, but Theatre Arlington's production should suffice if you can't make it to N.Y.C. in the next few weeks.