Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: John Roberts
There are not many individual productions that have had the same longevity of run and success that Nikolai Foster’s production of Annie has secured. Originally opening at The West Yorkshire Playhouse (Now Leeds Playhouse) in 2011, the show then toured the UK before a residency in London’s West End. Now this vibrant and feelgood revival has taken to the road once more and offers theatregoers of all ages a genuinely sweet trip to the theatre.
Based on the comic book strip Little Orphan Annie, the musical follows the exploits of the young and feisty orphan Annie, as she treads the road to self-discovery and deals with the upset and happiness those journeys bring. In the titular role Ava Smith as Annie offers a reassuringly committed and focused performance with bags of enthusiasm and colour. And it’s colour that really makes Foster’s production shine, despite the show being set in the era of the American Depression there are colour splashes galore courtesy of Colin Richmond’s set and Ben Cracknell’s lighting design. George Dyer’s new orchestrations bring plenty of light and shade to Charles Strouse’s score which is also mirrored through Nick Winston’s engaging and fluid choreography.
Anita Dobson certainly gives her all, in the role of the alcoholic orphanage manager Miss Hanigan, but the tone of her performance, seems to sit uneasily with the rest of the production, more pantomimic than dramatic bite, more over-the-top than gritty realism which makes it seem like she is in a different production to the rest of the company. But this levelled out by strong support from Carolyn Maitland who makes a charming Grace Farrell, Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner as the crooked con-artists Rooster and Lily and Alex Bourne who manages to bring a real weight to the role of Daddy Warbucks.
On press night in Chester, Team Empire State took on the role of the Orphans and all commit to their respective roles with dedication and focus, but special mention must be given to Tia Grace Isaac who makes a sweet Molly and Dulcie Allsop as Tessie, Allsop, in particular, brimming with confidence in an eye-catching performance.
It’s clear this is a show that has a lot of love and attention to detail put into it, Foster’s production is slick and scenes segue in each other beautifully allowing the piece to flow with real pace and energy, but one can’t help feel that Annie is starting to really feel the test of time. It is now more of a sweet-tasting museum piece that brings plenty to enjoy but the after effect is a little unfulfilling.
Runs until 30 March 2019 | Image: Paul Coltas