MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW: ANNIE
Pictured: Jenny Weisz
Special to TorSun
18 NOV 2013
I couldn't have been the only one surprised (and yes, disappointed) when Young People's Theatre announced plans to produce the Broadway musical ANNIE.
YPT, after all, has built a golden reputation producing plays and musicals that refuse to talk down to its target audience — and ANNIE, for all its considerable popularity and numerous awards, is a musical that talks down to absolutely everybody. In the final analysis, it's little more that a series of musical flashcards (featuring saccharine lyrics by Martin Charnin, set to simple tunes by Charles Strouse) hung loosely on a scant storyline cobbled together by Thomas Meehan in an attempt to pass it off as family entertainment — theatre for young audiences only in the minds of people who don't really think young audiences have much in the way of minds at all.
Even YPT's artistic director, Allen MacInnis, who programmed ANNIE and helms the production now playing in YPT's Front Street space, conceded its weaknesses but forged ahead, determined to mine it for something more than musical ear wax. And, to give him credit, in this pared-down 90 minute version, he's certainly tried.
For instance, to side-step the terminal cuteness that has rotted the teeth of most earlier productions of ANNIE, he's cast a young adult in the title role, sparing us the leather-lunged pubescents who normally don an obligatory red fright wig and cuddle up to whatever mutt is playing Sandy (consigned here largely to the dog house), all for the opportunity to belt out a musical ear worm like Tomorrow like they have enough life experience to really mean it.
But despite the best efforts of young Jenny Weisz — a wonderfully talented Sheridan College graduate cast in the title role — it's a ploy that simply doesn't work. In the end, when you take the cute out of ANNIE, there's nothing left, save for a few depression-era jokes about the New Deal and Roosevelt that, one suspects, have long since lost the ability to amuse anyone collecting Old Age Security and simply fly over over the heads of anyone younger. At least, in today's Toronto, they'll have the virtue of being easier to explain to the kiddies than some of our Mayor's most recent remarks.
To add further roughage to ANNIE's purée, MacInnis has recruited some fine talent to flesh out the supporting roles, but though Sterling Jarvis (cast as Oliver Warbucks), Louise Pitre (cast as the evil Miss Hannigan) and Shawna Van Omme (cast as Warbucks' pretty right hand) do fine work, their best efforts prove only that the first thing a good supporting performer requires is something worthy of support.
That said, this is an still an ANNIE that looks pretty good, thanks to designers Teresa Prysbylski (sets), Melanie McNeill (costumes) and Michael Walton (lighting). But sadly, despite MacInnis's determination to mine the story for gold, ANNIE remains theatrical small change — deep as a dime and not worth a plugged nickel.