Caroline Bialas ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In a production directed by the musical’s original lyricist and director, Martin Charnin, the 2014-2015 National Tour of Annie recently came to Boston’s Wang Theater from November 5th-16th. Following the recent Broadway revival, this rendition of the classic story of a young, optimistic redhead in the midst of the Great Depression found its own Annie. Starring as the internationally-known orphan gone rags-to-riches, up and coming talent, Issie Swickle makes her debut. In comparison with other popular Annies of this sought after role, Swickle seems to adopt more of the style of the musical’s original 1977 Annie (Andrea McArdle) than the 2012 Broadway revival’s (Lilla Crawford), who additionally implemented a Brooklyn-style accent to the character for her year-long run as Annie. Optimistic and genuine, Swickle fits well into the role’s almost forty-year-old shoes, showing her ability to both lead the younger cast and keep up with the older.
Along with the show’s lead, the rest of the cast performs strongly as well, particularly with Lynn Andrews shining as Miss Hannigan. Arguably one of the most difficult elements of bringing about a new rendition of a well-known classic is a proper balance between the audience’s expectations and the addition of new and fitting material. Andrews manages to find this difficult balance exceptionally well, adding new humorous nuances to her character, and helping the production as a whole to find its own amongst the astonishing statistic of 800-1000 productions of the classic that are put on worldwide each year.
Also among some of the most engaging performances were those of the ensemble cast. While often less discussed, the power of the ensemble cast functioned very significantly in this production. In numbers like “We’d Like To Thank You, Herbert Hoover,” a song that is absent from film versions of the musical, the cast shows the depth of their ability to bring to life and well establish the desperation of Depression-era America. One unfortunately less-exercised implementation of the ensemble cast in this performance however, is ensemble dance. While not absent from the show, dance choreography is mostly kept within sections of numbers, and is never really the driving force of the scene.
Speaking to the visual look of the production, the Annie National Tour tends to take a more minimalistic approach on its aesthetic. Possibly due to the traveling nature of the production, most of the sets seem less elaborate than those of the recent Broadway revival. While still visually impressive (and aside from the arguably more detailed orphanage set), the National Tour seems to amplify the already intentionally minimalist look of the 2012 revival—often using silhouettes images and incredible colored backlighting. Overall, the show largely relies on these backdrops and clever tricks of lighting design by Ken Billington, to create a sense of depth in the sets and scenery. One benefit of this more minimal production design is that, with fewer extraneous and moving set pieces, the actors and their performances become the true spectacles of the production.
Overall, the National Tour of Annie is definitely something worth seeing. It is a wonderful stage performance of the show that does the story justice; one that however, does not necessarily take all its opportunities to go out on a limb and create distinctly new interpretations of the original source material.