Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: John Roberts
It’s hard not to get won over by the overt optimism that seeps through every element of this saccharine-sweet musical. Generations of theatre goers have filled theatres all over the world to hear Little Orphan Annie sing The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow and it’s without a doubt that Nikolai Foster’s genuinely warm production will bring a new generation to enjoy the musical and firmly plant a smile on their young faces.
Colin Richmond sets the scene well with his metaphorically clever jigsaw puzzle set design, which frames the musical brilliantly and allows Foster’s production to breathe and have the space in which the large ensemble cast can really shine, and they certainly do that especially during Nick Winston’s enthusiastic and tight choreography.
Headlining this leg of the tour as Miss Hannigan, the alcoholic orphanage owner is Birds of a Feather star Lesley Joseph. If the audiences of Liverpool are expecting something fresh and interesting from her portrayal, however, they will be disappointed, for this is Dorian through and through… No attempt at a New York accent and little energy apart from during Easy Street makes this an altogether unmemorable performance. Thankfully, more positive things can be said about the rest of the company.
Alex Bourne is a charming Daddy Warbucks and balances the aloofness of the character brilliantly. Holly Dale Spencer shines as the eager-to-please Grace Farrell. Jonny Fines and Djalenga Scott pull out all the stops as con artists Rooster and Lily. But it is the performances by the younger cast members that really steal the show. On press night in Liverpool, Team Liberty takes to the stage. Andie Jordan, Anna O’Hare, Megan Haynes, Matilda Hopkins, Holly Parsons, and Sarah Huttlestone attack the material with fierce commitment and they tackle Winston’s choreography with aplomb. Anya Evans as the red-haired orphan Annie gives a committed and mature performance and sings the songs best known musical numbers with clarity and confidence – and not a sign of a nasal note anywhere.
For all the positives of the show – and there are plenty including George Dyer’s new orchestrations and Ben Cracknell’s impressive lighting design – the source material is really starting to age and the creaks in starting to show more than ever before. In saying that, Foster manages to infuse the production with enough unique moments to make this a very enjoyable night at the theatre and one that will have your little ones singing all the way home.
Runs until 12 March 2016 | Photo:Paul Coltas