Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Molly Knox
Annie at the King’s Theatre presents a dynamic, sharp and vibrant production of a beloved story of a plucky orphan’s resolve and hope in finding her parents, in the face of greed, spite and bitterness. Director Nikolai Foster’s vision of the show is a similar one to many other interpretations of this musical originally performed in 1977 on Broadway; however, this isn’t to say that this production lacks any sense of creative new spirit or charismatic heart, much to the contrary.
Throughout Annie, diverse and electric choreography takes the audience on an emotive journey, telling the story of an optimistic 11 year old living in the formidable Miss Hannigan’s orphanage amid the Great Depression, searching naively for her parents. After Annie receives a remarkable opportunity to stay with billionaire Oliver Warbucks for Christmas, she’s met with Miss Hannigan’s plots to squash her chances at a life she’d dreamt about. Alongside this, marvellously executed movement captivates the audience from start to finish, when the overall story may – on the surface – seem to lack depth.
Entering the theatre it’s impossible not to feel instantly intrigued by the oppressive yet playful set designed excellently by Colin Richmond, and transported into a 1930s New York orphanage. Industrial, threadbare and chaotic elements of Miss Hannigan’s cheerless orphanage juxtapose colourful, jagged jigsaw pieces jutting out at each side of the stage and toys hanging from the lampshades adding to the childishness of Annie’s fellow orphans, as well as the draconian sharp-edged regime of Miss Hannigan, played by Anita Dobson. The giant jigsaw not only reflects the mammoth task of building the ideal life, but is also a great way of communicating the overwhelming clutter of the Big Apple for not only a child, but those suffering during this tough period in history for the US, through the New York map sprawled across it to the bright lights they embellish throughout. Sound designer Richard Brooker’s radio broadcastings of cheesy, in-your-face American advertising and presidential speeches provide a sense of comfort and friendship, but also seem unsettling to the audience immediately and set the tone for the rest of the performance.
This heart-warming story of good overcoming evil is accompanied by a beautifully enigmatic score which switches smoothly from evoking nostalgia and hope, to making the audience laugh, to making everyone want to hiss and boo. It’s also clear throughout the duration of the show that every single cast member has vocal talent, and puts passion into every note that is sung. Moreover, there has to be particular praise sung to the grit, attitude, energy and chemistry all the younger actors display on stage, as well as the tongue-in-cheek role that the orphans play in a comedic social commentary on themes like ostracization and poverty without losing the charm of a Broadway musical.
Despite the potential criticism that the overall show lacks that tiny bit of magic and innovation due to the replication of characterisation and some stylistic choices (which is to be expected of such an iconic and widely known musical) , there are certainly powerful and enthralling performances all packed in; Hard Knock Life, Little Girls, Easy Street and Hooverville are particularly delightful to immerse yourself in, from the choreography, to the fabulous stage and costume design, to the brilliant chemistry, skill and dazzle of the actors.
Overall, Annie is a show that isn’t only uplifting, but also packs a punch in terms of dealing with heavy social and historical issues, while remaining a light-hearted experience jam-packed full of compelling musical and theatrical talent that will leave most wanting to see it again Tomorrow.
Runs until 20 April 2019 | Image: Paul Coltas