Wednesday, April 29, 2009


So I’ve outlined all of this reviewer methodology stuff, which may just be blah blah blah to anybody who’s still reading out there. But now I’ll get back to the thing that prompted all of this, a specific application of the general methodology.

There were aspects of “Annie” that I had problems with. Things that at first seemed worthy of some pointed critical comments in a review. Not to get all Simon Cowell on y’all but at least at the show I attended, there were some vocal issues, some deliveries that were “pitchy” as it were. I love Mr. Bass like a brother but there was a bit of sing-speaking through his songs. And bless her totally adorable little heart but Ms. Day did not nail “Tomorrow.” In fact, I can’t judge because I’ve only seen the show all the way through once but it may be a stretch for her to ever really belt “Tomorrow” because of her range. Push it too hard and too far up into that head voice and things will go flat for even the best singer.

But in songs that seemed more solidly in her range, she was awesome. “Maybe” was enchanting. And Mr. Bass was an exceptional Warbucks in every other way; in fact, I can’t imagine another actor in town off hand that could have done as good a job.

So when I sat down to write the review, I had a choice. I could be brutally and somewhat capriciously critical, pointing out issues that were real and likely ongoing with the production. But I stepped back a little and looked at the big picture. This production is exceptional in a whole bunch of ways. The technical aspects are impeccable and the ensemble as a whole is just fantastic. And if I’m not mistaken, I believe Ms. Arthur trimmed a bit out of the show or somehow worked some magic to make the second act – which has a tendency to drag in other productions I’ve seen – motor right along.

I realized that if I had an unlimited number of column inches to spend writing about this “Annie,” the number of positive aspects of the show would outnumber the negative at least 8 to 1. I’d have to work through the mesmerizing vocals of the Boylan Sisters (Alia Bisharat, Annie Steingold, and Robin Harris-Jones), the truly inventive choreography of ensemble scenes like the Hooverville number, and the fine FDR portrayal by Michael Hawke before I could even get around to Maggie Roop’s shapely legs. Though I appreciate “Annie,” it may not even make the top 10 of my favorite musicals. But this production prompted that singular “wild card” experience of leaving the theater smiling, humming the songs and generally feeling pretty darn good about life.

So, given the preponderance of the evidence, as it were, I figured it would be downright churlish (that one’s for you, Mr. Hamm) to spend any of my 300 words pointing out the few issues with a production that was so good in so many other ways. By following the formula, the negatives pretty much got pushed aside. It’s not like I didn’t notice them, they just didn’t make the cut.


Frank Creasy said...

I thought Andrew was "peckish", not "churlish". Maybe both? Well, we nit-pick either way. Maybe I'm being "boorish"!

I've not seen ANNIE but plan to do so (your description of Michael's FDR and Maggie's legs are enough of a draw. I'd seen a touring production years ago at the Mosque (it was still called that back then) which I really enjoyed, but it came off very much choreographed down the the Nth degree; little of the performers' charm and stage presence shone through, something I guess will not be a problem with this production.

But mainly I wanted to say that anyone involved in a production is always a little disappointed, even with a good review, at things not mentioned simply because of space constraints. I suppose it would behoove all of us in the arts to appreciate and accept the business constraints on every daily or weekly periodical in America today, which are strained to breaking point. I have to believe anyone involved in the arts today can understand the budget constraints impacting this economy, since the arts are hurting more than ever before.

As Bruce Miller acknowledged on Barksdale's blog recently, producing shows such as ANNIE, which reflect both historical and current economic realities yet generate a positive outlook by curtain call, are just the thing audiences need today from theatre companies. A full season of "rose colored glasses" shows is not what I'm advocating, but paying to see some feel-good theatre right now seems smart if we all want to keep working over the next year or two.

Keith C. said...

This production of "Annie" is a newly re-written version of the show. Your post prompted me to check my old "Annie" script and see what has been altered - the order of some scenes (most notably the Hooverville scene) has been changed and some lines have been re-written. Overall, however, the changes are quite minor. Looking through the original and revised scripts, it doesn't appear that anything was cut from the second act for this production so I think it's safe to assume that Robin Arthur's ingenious direction is the reason that the second act doesn't seem to drag.

Andrew Hamm said...

Ha ha ha ha.

What a delight to read a bit of explication of your critical process! As much as I like writing about my artistic process, I love reading about other artists', and your last few posts have been really interesting.

And Frank is right; in fact, he puts it much more succinctly than I ever could. I really wish more people knew what a singular performance Brandon Crowder was putting in as Oberon. Not that my other actors aren't equally wonderful, but Oberon has been a complete omission in the critical dialogue about the show.