Even almost 40 years after the hit musical Annie debuted on Broadway, winning the Tony Award for best musical, its lyricist and original director, Martin Charnin, remains excited by Annie’s enduring, optimistic pluck. A revival tour of the show, also directed by Charnin, runs this weekend at the Lexington Opera House as part of the Broadway Live series.
Charnin launched the new national tour after a 2012 Broadway revival of the show directed by James Lapine was met with cool reception for coloring the characters with a shadowy veneer that worked against the show’s optimism.
New York Times critic Ben Brantley described the original 1977 production as “an unstoppable sunshine steamroller.
“This version, which flirts with shadows, moves more shakily,” he wrote in his 2012 review.
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Charnin says the national tour aims to return the now-classic musical to its sunny roots.
“Over the course of the years, a lot of talented and inventive directors and theater companies have decided to improve things or do their own take on it,” he says. “I have no problem with any of that if it doesn’t disturb what the piece is about. It’s only when the optimism and the joy and the spunk that this show is really all about — when that gets monkeyed with, that is when we have to go back to its roots.”
“The 2012 revival sort of cut the heart out of the piece and the joy,” he says. “Basically I felt it was doing a gigantic disservice not only to our piece but audience expectation.”
Charnin says part of the responsibility of directing the new tour of Annie is appealing to the audience’s expectations, particularly because Annie is often a multigenerational theater-going event.
“A lot of people who are going to see it now are grandmothers who took their daughters, and now their daughters are there with their kids,” Charnin says. “It’s like a baton being passed in a relay race.”
“Revivals work like gifts,” he says. “They’re a present that you’re giving to somebody based on your own memory of how wonderful the first experience was.
“This show was designed for families, for people that span generations, and that’s basically the reason that it’s still out there and has been so successful and is playing all over the world.”
Part of the impetus for writing Annie was to introduce young people to the theater.
“It’s an adult show that is kid-friendly,” Charnin says. “The show works on two levels.”
In addition to new casting, the tour features entirely new set designs and minor modified orchestrations.
Charnin says he likes to experiment with minor changes, such as giving the Warbucks mansion a Rockefeller feel, but that any artistic tweaks must fall within the bounds of the original concept.
“You’re not going to be able to say, my goodness, why is the Warbucks mansion a Frank Lloyd Wright house?” Charmin says.
Charnin is confident that his revival will set the reset button on the franchise.
“What the musical is about is something that is universal,” Charnin says. “When that gets monkeyed with, we have to reconnect the material to what ultimately the audience’s level of expectation is.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
If You Go
What: Touring version of the classic Broadway musical
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 8, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 9, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 10.
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.