Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Robert Readman
Musical Director: Adam Tomlinson
Choreographer: Lesley Hill
Reviewer: Rob Atkinson
The popularity of Harold Gray’s 1930s American comic strip “Little Orphan Annie”, based on a 19th century poem of that name, was based partly on its solid “cute” appeal and partly on its frequently hard-hitting messages, encompassing topical issues of the time such as Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, the depression which followed the Wall Street crash, and even communism. Such a solid gold mixture was always likely material for a smash hit musical, and so, in 1977, it came to pass. The enduring appeal of Annie has seen the show flourish since then, with film adaptations, various spin-offs and even a sequel.
The nature of the piece, with its demanding rôles for very young performers, presents a stiff challenge for amateur theatre companies, but one frequently accepted with relish. York Stage Musicals took up that challenge to produce a rip-roaring show with strong performances throughout, a versatile set and fine musical accompaniment under the baton of Adam Tomlinson.
In the main rôles, the four leading characters of Annie, Daddy Warbucks, Grace Farrell and Miss Hannigan are ably portrayed and well-supported by the rascally Rooster and Lily St Regis. Nik Briggs stopped short of shaving his head for his take on Daddy Warbucks, but a sympathetic acting performance and a strong singing voice saw him create an authentic Broadway character. If anything, Mr Briggs’ voice was a tad too strong in a few tender moments, when perhaps a little power could have been sacrificed with a view to suggesting some much-needed gentleness.
Annie herself was a wonderful, tour-de-force performance as given by Coraleigh Hobson-Robinson for this opening night. Her singing voice had the required range of power and pathos, her accent and acting could not be faulted, and she really looked the part. Additional talents, such as stage dog control and the ability to dance with a much taller partner, should not be underestimated.
Miss Hannigan was given a crazily drunken makeover by Julie-Anne Smith, and her interaction with Rooster (Joe Wawrzyniak) and Lily St Regis (Verity Carr) gave us several comedic high points. Providing an air of calm, competence and serenity throughout was Warbucks’ personal secretary Grace Farrell, sweetly portrayed by Stephanie Bolsher, who bravely overcame some technical difficulties with her microphone to demonstrate a pure singing voice and give a finely-understated performance which neatly counterbalanced the antics of the other principals.
A notable cameo was provided by Martin Rowley as Drake, Warbucks’ butler. This was a small rôle, embroidered by Mr Rowley’s splendidly dry interpretation; one of massive pomposity, given with immaculate timing and earning his own laughs quite effortlessly. Watch out too for the bawdy and recurring ‘Easy Street’ number, well-choreographed and entertainingly performed by Hannigan, St Regis and Rooster, the former two showing a degree of thigh surprising yet welcome in a family show.
Last, but not least, Annie’s orphanage pals, the eponymous “little girls” of Hannigan’s drunken lament, were a notable embellishment to the show as a whole – with rip-roaring, foot-stomping numbers such as ‘Hard Knock Life’. That show-stopper, in particular, was given with a verve and panache that would have done credit to many a professional chorus; the girls certainly done good, right down to the littlest and cutest of them all, the adorably minute Molly. All credit to all the performers, not forgetting the canine star Monty for his well-behaved portrayal of Annie’s faithful dog Sandy.
Annie is a feel-good musical right down to the last mote of stage-dust and, in the capable hands of this company thatwas precisely the effect on an enthusiastic and appreciative first night audience. Well worth seeing.
Runs until: 24th May 2014