MusicalReviewSouth East

Annie – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Director: Nikolai Foster
Choreographer: Nick Winston
Reviewer: Dan English

Despite TV star Lesley Joseph dominating the advertising for this show, it is youngster Madeleine Haynes who deserves all the plaudits in the title role in Annie, which reaches Dartford’s Orchard Theatre as part of its UK tour.

Directed by Nikolai Foster, the musical tells the story of Annie, the well-known red-headed orphan who is saved from the drunk and devilish Miss Hannigan (Joseph) by the billionaire Mr Warbucks (Alex Bourne). Despite her new found wealthand family, Annie longs to find her biological family, falling foul of Hannigan’s fiendish deeds alongside her brother Rooster (Jonny Fines) and his equally as cunning girlfriend, Lily (Djalenga Scott).

As Annie, the young Haynes gives as good a performance as you are likely to see from someone of such a young age on stage. Haynes’ ability to turn from brash and bold to innocent is superbly slick and is a skill that she combines just as impressively with her vocal display too. Tomorrow is perhaps one of the world’s most recognisable songs from a musical and Haynes provides a perfect rendition on more than one occasion in this production.

Alongside Haynes for much of the show is Alex Bourne, performing as Mr Warbucks, the billionaire desperate to adopt Annie. Warming from a cold wealthy businessman to a kind-hearted father, Bourne’s performance makes his character’s relationship with Annie instantly believable and their final moments in this show are incredibly heartwarming. Set against a 1930s Great Depression backdrop in America, Bourne’s billionaire should be as depleted as his nation’s economy, yet his character finds new hope in Annie and Bourne provides much of the emotion and love that this production so dearly desires.

Whereas Bourne’s Mr Warbucks melts under Annie’s innocent charm, Lesley Joseph’s Miss Hannigan only becomes colder with jealousy at seeing the orphan she loathes the most gain everything Miss Hannigan desires. Joseph performs some demanding musical numbers, both vocally and physically, well, but one feels as if her character is slightly too tame in her loathing of the orphans in general. That said, Miss Hannigan is the perfect antidote to the rising levels of hope in this production and Joseph delivers this well.

Pulling Miss Hannigan’s strings in conning Warbucks is her scheming brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily, performed by Jonny Fines and Djalenga Scott respectively. Rooster is immediately dislikeable, yet his characterisation feels slightly out of place in this production and whereas Joseph’s Hannigan could be seen as not nasty enough, Fines’ Rooster almost becomes too exaggerated as a villain. That said, the longing for his character’s comeuppance is a testament to Fines’ performance. It is, however, disappointing to see Scott limited in her role as Lily, as her comic timing and general nastiness as a character seems underused throughout.

A special mention must also go to Holly Dale Spencer, who is Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ loyal secretary and Annie’s original saviour. There’s an innocent charm in Grace that runs parallel to that of Annie and it is Grace who first starts to defrost Warbucks’ financially focused heart and Spencer creates an instantly likeable character that is not intrusive, but remains essential, to the plot. Furthermore, the performance as a whole is boosted by the incredibly talented ensemble cast, both children and adults, throughout. These serve not as plot fodder but in effective ways that are equally successful in creating a bustling New York as a well as a cruelly run orphanage.

A further strength of this production is the inventive choreography (Nick Winston) and design (Colin Richmond). As a touring production, it is often difficult to establish elaborate settings such as the 1930s New York required for this musical, yet Richmond’s slick yet easy-to-manipulate set achieves this well. Likewise, Winston’s choreography often goes a long way in setting the scene, but one ingenious moment involving tap dancers as horses stands out as a showcase for the routines in this show.

This show does have its flaws. There are a number of scenes that appear to drag and some weaker dialogue do take away from the exquisite vocal and dancing displays that the audience is treated to. Despite this drawback, this is a feel-good musical that does up its intensity and impact as it reaches its climax, and is no Hard knock life to watch.

Runs until 30 January 2016 | Image: Paul Coltas

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