A Trumplike fracas briefly threatened to break out Tuesday night at the National Theatre during the normally adorable musical "Annie" as an angry viewer fleetingly protested the show.
"That was terrible!" he heckled quite clearly from a good seat in the orchestra. That came after the cast, playing Depression-era New York City hobos, sang the sarcastic "We'd Like to Thank You" about former president Herbert Hoover.
You half expected Daddy Warbucks to swagger to the lip of the stage and bellow, "Get him out!" The crowd didn't rise up and no punches were thrown, but the buzz at intermission was juicy: Someone's shouting down "Annie"?!
Maybe the heckler was a member of Actors' Equity, for the "Annie" that's here through Sunday is a non-union tour barnstorming the country, sometimes to the grueling tune of four states a week. In any case, the catcall was unfair. The cast wasn't bad.
"Not bad" is pretty much where the whole show sits, though. "Annie" lyricist and original director Martin Charnin didn't care for the 2012 Broadway revival and so put this together with Gaithersburg-based Troika Entertainment, long a leading producer of non-Equity tours. Accomplished designer Beowulf Boritt offers a squalid-looking two-story tenement for the orphanage and big Manhattan vistas in graphic design flat backdrops, yet the show feels more two-dimensional than you expect. It also dances less than memory suggests, which may be a key reason this never seems to fully sparkle.
The orphans are terrific, and the epically named Gilgamesh Taggett is a warm, bald presence as Daddy Warbucks. The vivid Lynn Andrews, who apparently has played the mean Miss Hannigan for years, might ease up just a touch; her dry deliveries are her funniest. The program lists 11 people in the orchestra, and it's nice that Charles Strouse's familiar score sounds more like horns and woodwinds than keyboard electronica. The general spirit is upbeat and the cast has brisk energy, but in the end there is little you can point to that's imbued with unexpected inspiration or genuine flair.
The show may satisfy families and youngsters connecting with those bright-voiced orphans, led by the plucky redhead reliably crooning the optimistic "Tomorrow" (take a bow, Heidi Gray). It likely won't cut the mustard for audiences expecting the National to offer shows that feel like they're directly coming from or going to Broadway, rather than "not bad" productions with a lot of miles on the tires alighting from the outer reaches of the touring circuit.