Melody Hollis, Andrea McArdle,and Mikey in Annie
(© Ken Jacques)
Melody Hollis, Andrea McArdle,
and Mikey in Annie
(© Ken Jacques)
More than three decades after becoming a Broadway star, Andrea McArdle has returned to Annie, but she's not playing the title role in Musical Theatre West's hit-and-miss production. Sad to report, though, as the villainous Miss Hannigan, McArdle attempts to ingratiate herself to the audience the entire time, mugging out to the rafters instead of relating to the other characters or speaking directly to them.

The score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin still uplifts with its optimistic anthems and clever character numbers. The book, by Thomas Meehan, seems timely as the country continues a financial struggle almost as scary as the 1930s; indeed, America's feeling of malaise could use a Little Orphan Annie to pump cheer and confidence into its bloodstream right now.

Most of the principal players do very well, notably Melody Hollis, whose comic timing and strong belting voice makes her a perfect fit for the title character. Of the other orphans, the most darling is half-pint Grace Kaufman as little Molly.

The endearing Shannon Warne invests so much in the role of Grace Farrell, she always seems to believe everything she says. As Lily St. Regis, Bets Malone finds the outrageous humor in her few lines, armed with a squeaky voice and a pointed delivery, while Michael Pasternostro, as her partner-in-crime Rooster, brings comic villainy and suave dance moves to the show-stopping "Easy Street." Far less energetic is Jeff Austin as billionaire father-figure Daddy Warbucks; his numbers, particularly "Something Was Missing," bring the show to a halt.

The chorus is one of the best seen in local theater. The slyly devilish "Hooverville" hits home as the homeless sing their empty praises of their former President. And when the chorus returns as stylish New Yorkers or as members of Warbucks' staff, they are sometimes more memorable than those they support. Partially, the chorus can thank Roger Castellano for his breezy choreography.

Unfortunately, the whole cast is less well served by director Steven Glaudini, who needs to free some cast members from slipping into hammy showmanship and who struggles to find the proper pacing for the show.