Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Director: Martin Charnin
Leaping lizards! Annie is back on another national tour and has landed at Blackpool Opera House, with a revival that’s energetic, fast-paced and larger than life. While there have been slicker productions, it’s still got the magic that’s been capturing hearts, young and old, for decades and all the classics that have become a solid part of musical theatre history – from It’s a Hard Knock Life, to Tomorrow, to Together at Last.
The production follows the story of orphan Annie (Zoe Akinyosade), who lives under the drunken care of Miss Hannigan (Jodie Prenger) at a downtrodden orphanage during the Great Depression. Bold and fearless, Annie immediately wins over billionaire’s assistant Grace Farrell (Amelia Adams) during a visit to Hannigan’s and she soon melts Daddy Warbucks (Alex Bourne) as well with her warm and optimistic personality. Setting out on a mission to find Annie’s real parents, encountering many challenges along the way, it’s ‘together’ where Annie and Daddy Warbucks learn they should be.
While true to the tale many will know and love, some elements in this adaptation, directed by Martin Charnin, do feel rushed. While previous revivals have managed it, this one struggles with the believability factor. The script moves a little too quickly at times and from the offset it is difficult to believe the rapport between Annie and Warbucks. Bourne’s portrayal of the billionaire is sometimes too soft, needing a bit more tough love and stereotypical businessman in the early scenes, to make his character arc clearer and to show his emotional development.
That said, there is some stunning casting. The main characters are great, albeit sometimes a little too directed and lacking emotional depth, but it is the ensemble and supporting roles Rooster (Paul French) and Lily (Billie-Kay) who absolutely steal the show. The group choreography is flawless, the energy throughout the night transcending into the audience – with modernised routines that keep the numbers (book by Thomas Meehan and music by Charles Strouse) fresh and entertaining for audiences. But it’s Easy Street that is by far the highlight of the night, Prenger, French and Kay, as a trio, bringing it out of the bag and offering a realness that other parts of the show needs. French in particular is just superb – he’s one hell of a triple threat, with a sleaziness and rawness that bring Rooster to life.
Currently, the casting of Miss Hannigan is done with a familiar star name, to help draw in the crowds and keep an older musical exciting and new. Craig Revel Horwood, of Strictly Come Dancing fame, is the current headline act but while he will perform for the rest of the run at Blackpool, it was Jodie Prenger (winner of BBC’s I’d Do Anything) who took on the fun OTT, panto-esquevillain on opening night, playing it with comedic ease and delivering some exceptional vocals.
At times, music can overpower the singing and there is definitely more work that could be done to gel those lead roles more. But if you’re a fan of Annie, you are still going to be coming out singing about the wonders of Tomorrow. While highly superficial, it’s a trip down memory lane, it isn’t a carbon copy of the 1982 film and it’s bigger numbers are executed superbly –there’s no ‘maybe’ about it, it’s well worth a watch.
Runs until 9 September 2023.