Annie – Milton Keynes Theatre

Book: Thomas Meehan

Music: Charles Strouse

Lyrics: Martin Charnin

Director: Nikolai Foster

Reviewer: Gemma Fincher

Who would have thought that after 40 years the story of a spirited 11-year-old orphan, desperate to find her parents, would still be so popular in 2019? With America still reeling from the effects of the stock market crash of 1929, Annie is set in the depths of the Depression. The musical tells the story of the fiery young orphan who lives in a miserable home for girls run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan (Craig Revel Horwood). Convinced her parents left her there by mistake, she dreams of the day they will come for her. Her seemingly hopeless situation changes dramatically when she is selected to spend Christmas with billionaire businessman, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks (Alex Bourne).

The current UK tour of Annie remains largely true to the original and the many productions that have come before it and unfortunately, the similarities are slightly to its detriment. Despite this, through Nikolai Foster’s direction and Colin Richmond’s vibrant and bright set and costume design, the audience is successfully transported into 1933 New York. The clever light and shade of the jigsaw themed set design pays homage to a very dark time in history, not just for America but for the world. It is juxtaposed beautifully with the brightness of optimism and hope, sentiments shared in Annie’s most iconic number, Tomorrow.

Annie is true ensemble theatre. The nature of the story requires several child actors and it’s safe to say the children of Annie are pure joy. They ooze talent and enthusiasm from start to finish delivering their component parts with conviction and gusto, and they truly are the feather in this productions cap. Their ensemble performance of Hard Knock Life is a real highlight, a number synonymous with the musical. The rôle of Annie is being shared by 3 actors on the tour and for this performance, the talented Ava Smith was in residence. With a beautifully rich voice for one so young, she completely commands the stage and is totally believable as the plucky orphan.

Strictly Come Dancing’s resident mean judge, Craig Revel Horwood, is taking his final bow this week as the abhorrent and drunkard orphanage proprietor Miss Hannigan. Whilst at times clearly playing on his Strictly persona, Horwood’s interpretation of the cruel mistress is a touch too comedic causing his performance to drift into the realms of pantomime dame territory. That said, Horwood has a fine voice and delivers his numbers with conviction and poise. He also engages beautifully with the younger members of the cast as he stumbles around the stage, sweeping them aside and swigging from his liquor bottle.

Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner are a delight as the wickedly duplicitous Rooster and Lily. Their appearance brings a welcome boost to a first act that is slightly dipping in energy. Easy Street is by far one of the highlights of the act as the three wickedly greedy and selfish characters deliver Nick Wintson’s electric choreography with aplomb.

Alex Bourne is wonderful as the uptight businessman Oliver Warbucks who takes Annie in, initially for the Christmas period. His delivery of the character arc is believable and authentic and truly pulls at the heartstrings. It’s so clear to see that Bourne is fond of his co-stars and that translates beautifully to the story. Carolyn Maitland complements him as Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ cheerful and kindly secretary, her character, in particular, showcasing some of the incredible 1930 costume design.

Musical Director and pianist Daniel Griffin also deserves plaudits as perhaps one of the most animated MDs in the business. He leads the orchestra with an infectious energy which does not let up for a moment. The orchestra itself does incredible justice to the sweeping and iconic score.

Annie is a timeless tale of finding hope in the face of adversity, set against a memorable score, delightful choreography and a bright set and stage design. Whilst this particular production isn’t particularly innovative based on the fact it remains so true to the original, what it lacks in originality it makes up for in heart. Annie will undoubtedly continue to please and delight audiences for years to come, a true family classic.

Runs Until 6 July 2019 and on tour | Image: Paul Coltas

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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