Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
There's only one question: How is the new company of "Annie"? Leapin' Lizards, it's just grand!
In the nearly 15 months since she made her bow at the Eisenhower, "Annie" has become an international darlin', a humble little comic strip figure so ingeniously transformed to the musical stage that London has followed New York's infatuation with its own company.
And Thursday night the beautifully brushed-up National welcomed a new company which has had two previous stops, Toronto and Miami. Except for a fortnight out, June 25-July 6, when it will play the vast St. Louis Miny Opera, this grand group is settling into E Street for a run you'll not want to miss.
Two ingredients, scarce as diamonds, account for the phenomenal success of "Annie."
First, it is upbeat. With two strikes against her, poverty and loneliness, Annie loses even her dog, Sandy. She believes in "Tomorrow," she's straight forward and resourceful, and she never gives up. These are qualities audiences have been missing in theater and, indeed, are why they like what pundits call "escapist entertainment." Why not? They don't have to be told the world's a rough place.They just like to dream they can lick it. That's a basic reason for "Annie's" vogue.
The second is more complex: sheer, total professionalism in concept, staging and performance. Thomas Meehan's very free adaption of the comic strip figures is not merely ingenious, it is lean and swift.
Meehan's economy of writing achieves sentiment without sentimentality. The Martin Charnin lyrics and Charles Strouse score bristle with variety and elan in such songs as "Easy Street," "N.Y.C." and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."
With such honed material, Charnin presses on in pure professionalism for his direction, not pressing points, not allowing reprises.
The new cast furthers the savvy professionalism evinced in David Mitchells ingenious settings and the Theonie Aldredge clothes.
Kathy-Jo Kelly, one of the original orphans, rises to Annie as beautifully as did Andrea McArdle. Ruth Kobart's Miss Hannigan is very different from Dorothy Loudon's, but her more mature style works smashingly. Back at the National, where he's played many leads, but ruthlessly bald for this role, Norwood Smith is solidly right as Daddy Warbucks. Kathryn Boule, once Kathryn Wood of the University of Maryland, is lovely as Warbuck's secretary. Gary Beach's Rooster and Sam Stoneburner's FDR are to be relished, as is the National's new deep, deep red decor.