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Theater Review: 'Annie' -- 1.5 stars

Lilla Crawford in

Lilla Crawford in "Annie" Photo Credit: Lilla Crawford in "Annie"

1.5 stars

How would you like to see an irresistible musical comedy about a smart and spunky young girl who outwits a tyrannical, child-hating female power figure and is eventually adopted by a genuinely caring adult?

No, I'm not talking about "Annie," though I'll get to that soon enough. The musical you really want to see is "Matilda," which will open on Broadway in a few months.

As for "Annie," one of the most heartwarming and beloved musicals of all time, it has been all but butchered by James Lapine - a playwright-director best known for his original and edgy collaborations with Stephen Sondheim and William Finn - in his charmless and misconceived new Broadway revival.

Lapine is hardly a bad director. Rather, the co-creative force behind such musicals as "Sunday in the Park with George" and "Falsettos" is simply the wrong choice for "Annie."

The problems start when the show's classic overture is cut in half to make room for a dorky newsreel clip. The scenic design, intended to represent the turning pages of a fairy tale book, is ugly. Andy Blankenbuehler's forceful choreography is completely inappropriate.

Lapine hasn't necessarily darkened the show's tone, as one might have feared. His production is simply devoid of purpose or charm. At a time when New Yorkers could really use a feel-good musical, this "Annie" can barely even entertain.

In the title role, Lilla Crawford, 11, has a strong presence, but lacks vulnerability and is strangely encouraged to use a thick Brooklyn accent and far too much vibrato.

Two-time Tony winner Katie Finneran, who recently made a splash in "Promises, Promises," delivers a surprisingly hollow performance as Miss Hannigan, consisting entirely of shtick.

Anthony Warlow, an unknown Australian actor, is especially convincing as industrialist turned father "Daddy" Warbucks.

If there's anything to learn from this production, it's to keep Lapine far, far away from "The Sound of Music."

If you go: "Annie" plays an open run at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, 800-745-3000,


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