August 6, 2013

From the opening trumpet statement of the melody for “Tomorrow” to the launch into “It’s A Hard Knock Life” and the release of “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile,” the new recording of the current revival of Annie establishes a chipper enthusiasm that gladdens the hearts of theater music fans … and that’s just the first minute of the overture!

By the time vocalists are added – Lilla Crawford as the eleven year old personification of optimism, Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan, the kid-hating head of the orphanage, Anthony Warlow as the richest man in America, and the rest of the cast – the recording becomes a real joy.

The problem could be, of course, that you already own the original cast album of the show from its 1977 release on Columbia records, and you might doubt you need another. The new recording does not offer songs that hadn’t made the earlier recording, but it does have a number of reprises which brings the duration of Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s score from the nearly 44 minutes on the original recording to just over 51 minutes on the new disc. What’s more, the new one has three bonus tracks … more about that later.

If you don’t already have the original, and you only have room on your shelf for one Annie, make it this new one. While Crawford’s vocal performance is practically indistinguishable from Andrea McArdle’s legendary performance on the original Broadway cast album, and the first ten tracks (including “Little Girls” in both the initial delivery and then the reprise) leave me thinking it is something of a toss up, the sparkle level of “Easy Street” in the revival recording is so much higher than in the original that it makes this the one to buy.

Part of the reason for the excitement of this version of “Easy Street” is the skill of record producer Thomas Z. Shepard who here shares credit with Douglas Denhoff and Dennis J. Grimaldi. No one is better than Shepard at capturing the laughs and exclamations that dancers call out either through exuberance or in an effort to appear excited in order to get the audience into the spirit during a dance. Larry Morton and composer Charles Strouse, who produced the original cast album, didn’t even try to record the sound of the trio of Miss Hannigan, her brother Rooster and his floozy girlfriend on this number.

Another reason this version of “Easy Street” is so exciting is the superb conducting of Todd Ellison and the orchestrations that his 17 musicians are playing. On the original Broadway cast album Philip J. Lang’s orchestrations were top notch, and sounded even a bit fuller than the new ones credited to Michael Starobin with dance music arrangements by Alex Lacamoire. But Starobin (who shares credit in the booklet for this recording with Doug Besterman) brings more humor and a cleaner, clearer, sharper sound to the entire project.

This revival opened at the Palace Theatre across the street from the TKTS booth on Times Square last November and was nominated for the Tony Award for Outstanding Revival. The title role went to the big-voiced young lady who was, at the time of the opening, the same age as her character. 

As Daddy Warbucks, Warlow doesn’t get much of a chance to demonstrate the glories of his voice. This is a shame since his is a marvelous one as Australians well know from his work down under in half a dozen classic musicals, and his recordings including the “complete work” version of Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll & Hyde. But Strouse and Charnin didn’t write their best stuff for his character.

It is in the role of Miss Hannigan, the orphanage operator who can’t figure out why any child would want to be an orphan, that the contest between the original disc and the revival disc gets interesting. The original, of course, documents the greatest work of the wonderful Dorothy Loudon in her most famous role. Her “Little Girls” is simply the best. That’s not to say that Katie Finneran is any slouch in her rendition. She’s nearly as satisfying a drunk, as her Tony Award winning turn in Promises, Promises proved.

But I guess the producers of this disc didn’t want to rest on those laurels. Since the score leaves plenty of room on the disc for bonus tracks, they serve up “Little Girls” (with its reprise) and “Easy Street” all over again with a different Miss Hannigan, Jane Lynch who plays Sue Sylvester on the television series Glee. Lynch played the part for two months on Broadway when Finneran left to take a shot at a TV series with Michael J. Fox and before Faith Prince took over the role last month.


Annie - 2012 Broadway Cast Recording
Shout Broadway catalog 82663-14208 - ASIN: B00CHR7FMA
Running time 59:30 over 25 tracks including 3 bonus tracks
Packaged with notes and complete synopsis but no lyrics

2012 Broadway Revival Recording