Marissa O'Donnell and Kathie Lee Gifford in Annie
(© George Kalinsky)
Marissa O'Donnell and Kathie Lee Gifford in Annie
(© George Kalinsky)
There are a few good things you can say about the 30th anniversary production of Annie, presently ensconced in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. First, it's been put in the hands of someone with true feeling for the material: the show's original director and lyricist, Martin Charnin. There's also the indestructibility of the charming book, by Thomas Meehan, and the classic score that Charnin and composer Charles Strouse created, including such indelible musical theater hits as "Tomorrow," "Easy Street," and "It's a Hard Knock Life."

Also on the plus side, Kathie Lee Gifford knocks herself out as Miss Hannigan. Though the former talk show queen may not be naturally funny, she is making a game attempt, and one has to admire her complete commitment to the role.

As Warbucks' personal secretary, Grace Farrell, Elizabeth Broadhurst gives a warm and winning performance, while Scott Willis provides energy and style as the dastardly Rooster Hannigan. And, as Molly, six-year-old Anastasia Korbal steals all the orphanage scenes because she's got the sort of classic show biz adorability that audiences adore.

In some ways, however, Charnin is fighting a losing battle in engaging audiences. First and foremost, the show is ensconced in a theater so large, with a stage so distant from most of the spectators, that it inevitably loses some of its inherent impact.

Secondly, Marissa O'Donnell, who plays the title role of Annie, is not just the biggest girl on stage -- she looks positively pubescent -- but she also comes off as a benevolent bully rather than a tough little tyke who protects the smaller kids. Though she sings "Tomorrow" with the requisite belt, this kid has no charm. As for Daddy Warbucks, Conrad John Schuck, who has played this role thousands of times, appears to be walking through the show.

The set design is emblematic of this production's unevenness. On the one hand, there is a fireplace with a fake, painted fire that looks like something out of a high school production. On the other hand, there is an impressive staircase in the Oliver Warbucks mansion. The scenery, like the show as a whole, is a series of ups and downs.

And what about Sandy, Annie's beloved dog? Chew on this bone for a bit: Lola, the lovable, shaggy canine that plays the pooch, understudied the role in the 20th anniversary production of Annie. Now, she's the star! Who says that good things don't come to those wait, or that you can't teach an old dog new tricks?