Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
Direct from London’s West End, Annie– the much-loved tale of a red-headed orphan whose hard knock life is turned around in a twist of good fate – has officially opened as a touring production in Manchester. Set in the time of the Great Depression, this musical is anything but downbeat, reviving and refreshing all the classic and unforgettable numbers that has seen it transcend through decades of audience appreciation.
A firm family favourite on the musical theatre scene, Annie premiered in the West End back in 1978 and was shortly followed by a film portrayal in 1982, with the talented and bubbly Aileen Quinn as the starring role. It has since gone on to gain great acclaim, boasting a Tony award-winning book and score, and captivating hearts with the story of a little girl called Annie (Taziva-Faye Katsande) whose big dreams see her gaining the perfect home in New York City and a father figure in the form of businessman and billionaire Daddy Warbucks (Alex Bourne).
This adaptation of the musical is perhaps one of the slickest to date, the child and adult ensembles offering a real triple-threat of powerful singing, dancing and acting. Routines are not samey or outdated, but rather consist of clever and varied choreography that brings the musical into the 21stcentury while still maintaining the magic of the original production.
All the favourites – including Hard Knock Life, Easy Street and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile– are executed superbly, providing a feel-good factor that unwillingly leaves audiences grinning from ear to ear. More development of certain storylines would help to give the show more depth, for example more exploration of just how Annie wins over a formidable Daddy Warbucks, but half the fun of this production is the fact that it is unashamedly Americanised and cheesy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Katsande is a stunning title character, belting out numbers such as Tomorrow with flawless vocals and showing how she is already a seasoned pro, having previously gained both stage and television experience, in particular in Matilda – the Musical in the West End. The rest of the cast, too, do not disappoint, with all the leading roles bringing their characters to life within a fully rounded production, where every detail including costume, set and staging has been thoroughly thought through with the direction of Nikolai Foster.
A real shout out must however go to Anita Dobson, best known for her role as Angie Watts in the BBC soap EastEnders, who takes on the loveably villainous part of alcoholic orphanage owner Miss Hannigan. Her comedic timing and quirky gestures and characterisation are a joy to watch, and her work with Richard Meek (Rooster) and Jenny Gayner (Lily) provide some of the most memorable moments of the show. Dobson’s larger-than-life character will be taken over on the tour by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood at the end of April.
With the January blues well and truly out of the way, and a joyful production packed full of uptempo musical numbers on the doorstep, ’Maybe’ now is the right time to enjoy some sheer escapism with a musical that will leave you thinking of all the positives of ‘Tomorrow’.
Runs until 16 February 2019. | Image: