ABC (Disney) - Nov. 7, 1999

Review by John Kenrick

I have to confess that I am a sucker for Annie – have been ever since seeing a preview performance at the Alvin Theatre back in 1976. A good performance of this tuner always leaves me a giddy, sentimental mess. Like most Annie fans, I deplored the big screen version, which cast aside or trampled practically everything that makes the show work. The recent Broadway revival was another big disappointment thanks to woeful miscasting and an ugly physical production. The original stage version of Annie was so special to me (and to millions of others) that it breaks my heart when people are subjected to lesser versions of it. So I approached the new TV version with the skepticism of one who has all too often been burned. Besides, this was the same team of producers who responsible for the recent woeful TV remake of Cinderella.

What a delight to find myself once again swept up in Annie's warm and hopelessly illogical combination of sentiment and hilarity. By the time the broadcast was over, I was beaming and cheering just as helplessly as I did for the original stage show twenty-three years ago. Yes, the Disney team removed some songs and scenes, but the spirit of the show is intact.

Disney had the good sense to use people with solid Broadway credentials. Director Rob Marshall (the Tony-nominated choreographer of the recent revivals of She Loves Me and Damn Yankees) did a great job, keeping the laughs and tears in healthy proportion. The physical production is lavish without being obtrusive, with some excellent period New York settings, and the cinematography was attractive throughout.

As Miss Hannigan, the brilliant Kathy Bates proved herself a more than capable singer and dancer. Only occasionally over the top, which is perfectly appropriate for this role, she made a surprisingly strong musical debut. Since most of her co-stars are seasoned musical theatre pros, their expert performances are far from surprising and delightful. Victor Garber's Oliver Warbucks makes the transition from cold businessman to loving foster "Daddy" with ease, and Audra McDonald is superb as secretary Grace Farrell. This production has them engaged by the finale - an interracial coupling that would have been unlikely in 1939. Newcomer Alicia Morton is unaffected and charming in the title role, with a solid singing voice as well. Ms. Morton's furry co-star is pleasantly cuddly as Sandy, but he is no match for Broadway's original Sandy - a performance I have never seen even remotely matched.

Recent Tony winners Alan Cumming (Cabaret) and Kristin Chenoweth (You're a Good Man Charlie Brown) are perfect as Rooster and Lilly, milking every scene-stealing moment. I was delighted to see Andrea McArdle give a socko rendition of "NYC" as The Star To Be. The original Annie still has the voice and star quality that make her one of the last of that dying breed, a genuine Broadway musical star. The original "Star To Be," the late Laurie Beechman, would have been very proud. On the down side, the orphans were kept in overdrive for every scene, making them pushy rather than charming, perhaps the one serious directorial misfire in this production.

The broadcast included an ad for Gepetto, Disney's first original TV musical. Set for a broadcast debut in the Spring of 2000, I can only hope it holds to the high standards set by this delicious production of Annie. While nothing will ever erase or eclipse my memories of the original Broadway cast, this was an Annie to treasure.

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