Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
For just shy of forty years, Annie has often proven to be one of the most popular and sickeningly sweet musicals ever to grace the stage. This new production, however, manages to downplay the sugar and generate some genuine chemistry between its characters.
The plot of Annie is something most musical theatre goers are more than familiar with; a redheaded Cinderella-esque orphan seeks out her birth parents from under the gin-soaked thumb of Miss Hannigan. Set against the Wall Street crash of the early 1930s Annie discovers a possible glimmer of hope from benefactor Daddy Warbucks.
Jigsaw pieces adorn the side of the stage and blue and purple hues are ever present above the girl’s beds in the orphanage. One might forgive mistaking Colin Richmond’s set design with that of Matilda. With that said, the outlandish design for Annie works in the production’s favour. At first, the many subtle colour changes and imposing props feel out of place but soon enhance the performances, allowing for fast paced transitions without causing adistraction. Ben Cracknell’s lighting, when combined with the design of Richmond’s set creates an almost page turning effect. As if the story of Annie unfolds as the audience ‘reads’ the production.
Predominantly, any half-decent family musical requires an equally repulsive antagonist for the audience to rise against, thank heavens for Jonny Fines as Rooster because Elaine C Smith’s portrayal of Miss Hannigan is in short; drab. Known for her larger than life characters on the small screen, Smith’s stint as Miss Hannigan lacks any vehemence. Fines, however, brings a much-needed nefariousness to the show; slithering his way across the stage both physically but also in his line delivery. There is a real threat to this character, but that doesn’t stop Fines and Djalenga Scott as Lily delivering a captivating and energetic Easy Street.
Nick Winston’s choreography is a time capsule of popular dance styles of the era with Charleston inspired routines that occassionally shine. The rest of the production has enjoyable pieces of movement, but only the nostalgic trip to Hollywood’s studio era during N.Y.C provides any real substance.
Annie is known foremost for its score, between Tomorrow and Hard Knock Life,it’s difficult to find a soul who wouldn’t be humming on their exit from the theatre. Leading the impressive vocals is Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks whose on-stage chemistry with the entire cast lifts the production. His stern and yet humorous depiction of the billionaire is effortless and his charm whenever sharing the stage with Annie is heart-warming. Annie herself is played with just enough bravado to find the character enjoyable but not irritating. Charles Strouse’s score is a classic which needs little tampering, though Foster and musical director George Dyer manage to breathe some fresh air into an otherwise perfect score.
Many timeless family musicals show their age and Annie is no exception. However, Foster has managed to revitalise a classic with some fine talent and a staging that keeps it in its era but provides a much-needed freshness. This production successfully makes Annie a little more relevant, reminding us that this optimistic musical will be performed, not just tomorrow, but for a very long time to come.
Runs until 21 May 2016|Image: Matt Crockett