Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Nikolai Foster
Annie is a classic musical, iconic even. A funny, heart-warming tale of an orphan who finally finds herself a family, there are seemingly very few people who have not seen either the musical or one of the several film versions before. There are even fewer who cannot belt out the most famous song from the show, Tomorrow, given half a chance. So, with this classic status comes a certain trepidation as a reviewer. Will this production live up to expectation and the standards set by the many others that have gone before?
The answer with this particular production, based on one originally created at West Yorkshire Playhouse, is an emphatic ‘yes’. In fact, this may be the best version that has come along in a long time.
First thing’s first though, the big name draw for this show needs to be addressed. Craig Revel-Horwood, a household name as Strictly Come Dancing judge, a highly regarded director and choreographer and seasoned musical theatre performer takes on the role of Miss Hannigan for the fourth time. At 58, and having had a double hip replacement one could be forgiven for thinking that Revel-Horwood may not do much, that he may just be there to add kudos to the production. What we see is in fact the opposite. Revel-Horwood is an absolute triple-threat as an actor, singer and dancer. His portrayal of Miss Hannigan is hilarious, his dance moves are a fantastic mix of drunken and beautifully poised and his voice is very strong. In a role where the actor can ‘get away with’ not singing too much if they don’t have the vocal capabilities, Revel-Horwood does not take the easy route and shows the quality and the strength of his voice both on his own and in harmony with others, particularly the number Easy Street.
This is an absolutely outstanding cast, there was not a weak link in the show – from the youngest and tiniest orphan Kate, played by Myla Park (making her professional musical debut), to the self-confessed ‘square’ Daddy Warbucks (the thoroughly impressive Alex Bourne) the cast were fully dedicated to their roles and demonstrated real verve and energy throughout. Even Labradoodle Amber, playing Sandy, hit every mark with impeccable timing and very much deserved all of the onstage treats and the audience love that she got.
A large part of the appeal of this production is down to the absolutely inspired choreography – Nick Winston has created incredibly inventive movements and hugely enjoyable dance numbers which have served to add depth and interest to songs that might otherwise fade from memory such as Hooverville and You Won’t Be An Orphan For Long.
Harlie Barthram as Annie deserves a special mention for her professionalism, charm and exuberance – the success of the show very much rests on the young shoulders of this lead actress and she demonstrated just the right amount of guts and vulnerability, and most importantly her voice soared.
A deliciously dark and somewhat threatening Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s errant younger brother was played in a deliciously dark and mildly threatening manner by Paul French, adding a layer of menace to the character that has not previously been exploited. French is an actor to watch.
If there were any areas of the show needing improvement, it could only really be the very first song which initially seemed a little ear piercing and had the audience momentarily worried that the children’s voices would be akin to something from the Chipmunks. Thankfully, this was absolutely not the case for the rest of the show and the sound bedded in well, with a good levelling of sound between the live musicians and the vocals.
The only other very mildly disappointing element was the characterisation of Grace Farrell (Amelia Adams), Oliver Warbucks’s personal assistant. Usually a calm, cool, classy and capable character, who is clearly the sophisticated organiser ensuring the well-oiled Warbuck’s mansion and indeed Warbucks’s own diary run like clockwork, director Nikolai Foster has chosen a more simpering and slightly cutesy version of the role, all exaggerated expressions and melodramatic movements. It works to an extent, but does not communicate the layers of the character as effectively as it could. A missed opportunity, maybe.
But, this is splitting hairs – the production is exceptional, the standard incredibly high and it is guaranteed to delight audiences at every venue on its current UK tour. Bravo!
Runs until 21st October 2023.