NEW YORK — It is an odd thing indeed to watch Sandy get a huge ovation from New Yorkers.
But in a quirk of timing, the storm that has caused so much misery across the city also shares its name with a hairy mutt who stars in a new Broadway revival of "Annie."
Thankfully, theatergoers are a forgiving sort and the Sandy who bounds about onstage at the Palace Theatre produces mostly appreciative coos – one of the highlights of a somewhat uneven revival that opened Thursday.
The slow-to-start musical features an appealing 11-year-old Lilla Crawford in the title role, an overcooked Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan and a first-rate Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbucks.
James Lapine grounds the most rejiggered show in history – a Great Depression, homelessness on the Lower East Side, soup kitchens and hungry orphans – that may seem virtually documentary these days.
Finneran and Warlow seem to be in different shows. If you missed her in her Tony Award-winning turn as a daffy, drunken floozy in "Promises, Promises," she reprises it here. In fact, she does very little new, right down to her stretching out words by plunging her voice deep at the end of thoughts and stretching her body onto every piece of furniture. A gifted comedic actress, she is on autopilot here.
If Finneran is big and brassy and broad, Warlow is the opposite. This Australian actor brings gravitas and a sumptuous voice to Warbucks. His is a performance of subtlety, of small eyebrow movements – the only thing blustery is his Noo Yawk accent, nailed. Perhaps the reason the first half drags is he's not in it much.
The music by Charles Strouse with lyrics by Martin Charnin contains gems like "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" and "Tomorrow," reminding everyone why even Jay-Z came calling to lift something from "It's the Hard Knock Life." Thomas Meehan's sugary story stands the test of time, even if it sags in spots.
In addition to Sandy – actually played by a terrier mix called Sunny in most shows – "Annie" gets a huge lift from David Korins' smart, industrious sets, in which the walls of houses move like pages in a book, spiral staircases soar upward, a limo accordians out from a smaller car delightfully, and the grimness of poverty is made stark by a black-and-white Brooklyn Bridge and a homeless camp.
Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography is solid and seamless without being particularly memorable. He's most effective with the orphans and servants at Warbucks' home. He's also choreographed what is basically a gauntlet of beggers as Warbucks and Annie go to the movies singing "N.Y.C."
While Crawford is excellent, as is usually the case with "Annie," a younger orphan often steals your heart. In this show, that would be Emily Rosenfeld as Molly, who is cuter than a dump truck of plush teddy bears.
If gritty, tap-dancing orphans running from police and tweaking the highest of authority figures in a grim lower Manhattan sounds familiar, you're not wrong. The pretty great "Newsies" has all that, too.
But "Annie" has something that all New Yorkers can hum after Superstorm Sandy: "The sun'll come out tomorrow/bet your bottom dollar/that tomorrow there'll be sun!"