The rapport between Kevin McAllister's commanding Daddy Warbucks and Noelle Robinson's plucky Annie is by far the best thing in Olney Theatre Center's dutiful "Annie" revival. McAllister's gorgeous classical singing voice gives his Daddy Warbucks a daunting formality that also makes the billionaire character sound super-rich. Then he melts just right in the face of Robinson's funny, irresistible little optimist.
Not much of the rest of this "Annie" is as inspired. You'll admire the gaggle of orphan girls tromping around and singing "It's a Hard Knock Life," but Rachel Leigh Dolan's choreography is distractingly hard-working. More charming is the girls' "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile"; It's lighter and more graceful. You can actually enjoy the kids, rather than feeling as though you should be as impressed as a gymnastics judge.
That magic touch keeps skirting just out of reach in Jason King Jones's production. The versatile Rachel Zampelli seems made to order as the drunk orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, yet Hannigan's scenes are less amusing than creepy.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia, the original Angel in Broadway's "Rent," is plainly ready to dance as Hannigan's conniving brother Rooster, so why doesn't his louche vaudeville "Easy Street" with Dani Stoller's cheap tart Lily spin up into a joyous showstopper?
Why do the housekeepers' skirts twirl up awkwardly around their hips as they prance through the Warbucks mansion? Why does the stage seem so dim (as it did for Olney's "My Fair Lady," come to think of it), and why is so much of the dancing marches, spins and lifts?
It's a big show; the program lists 32 actors (the orphans are double-cast) and two dogs. All the singing is good; the nine-piece orchestra adequately serves up the durable Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin score; and Rob McQuay is particularly enjoyable as an Annie-charmed Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Annie's ballad "Maybe" and her anthem "Tomorrow" are American musical cornerstones that every kid should hear, but that doesn't quite vindicate Olney taking a second run at the show in seven years. When McAllister sings and the sunny, amusing Robinson cracks his severe Warbucks facade, you almost forget about all that.
Annie, book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin. Directed by Jason King Jones. Scenic/projection designer, Daniel Ettinger; costumes, Seth M. Gilbert; lights, Sarah Tundermann; sound design, Roc Lee. About 2½ hours. Through Dec. 31 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. Tickets $42-$84. Call 301-924-3400 or visit olneytheatre.org.