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'Annie' is Orphan Running

The musical hits a couple of snags and harsh reviews

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She may have lost the part of Annie, but 12-year-old Joanna Pacitti has not been wanting for a spotlight. After she was fired by producers unhappy with her performance — just weeks before the 20th-anniversary revival of the musical opened on Broadway — the disgraced, diminutive diva hit the talk-show circuit. Outraged — and encouraged by her stage parents, manager, and publicist — she sang for Rosie O’Donnell, threatened to sue the producers, filed suit against Macy’s (which sponsored the talent contest at which she was discovered) for an undisclosed amount, and ultimately sold the TV rights to her life story to PTM Productions.

In turn, the producers of Annie have received millions in free publicity. Which is a good thing, because on March 26, the Pacitti-free Annie opened to some of the most savage reviews of the season. ”Annie, the musical, is set in the Depression,” panned The New York Times. ”The revival that opened last night … may send you into one.” Indeed, Martin Charnin (who cowrote the show with Charles Strouse and Thomas Meehan, and directed the original production) has framed the light, bouncy songs in dull sets and thudding choreography. For miscasting Nell Carter as the villainous Miss Hannigan — a role that requires expert physical comedy — Charnin should be locked in a room with Gimme a Break reruns for one week.

Here’s the good news: Adorable moppet Brittny Kissinger, the 8-year-old understudy who made off with the title role, turns out to be less Eve Harrington than Ethel Merman, belting out ”Tomorrow” with aplomb. And the show played to capacity the weekend after opening-night reviews, proving that it’s damn near indestructible as a nostalgic, kid-friendly commodity. Ultimately, however, this tempest over Annie has left us feeling disheveled. The adults capitalizing on Pacitti’s travails should be spanked. And what’s been done to Annie borders on neglect. C-