Annie – The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Book: Thomas Meehan

Music: Charles Strouse

Lyrics: Martin Charnin

Director: Nikolai Foster

Reviewer: Carol Lovatt

For a night of sheer uplifting theatre, Annie the musical is a production that warms both the heart and soul of an audience. The story of a feisty little abandoned girl who is determined to find her parents and escape the hard life of an orphanage, it has a narrative which touches on injustice, social strife and the quest for triumph over adversity. It is, therefore, a tale which resonates with the emotion and tenacity of the human spirit. On that score alone, Annie is seen as a theatrical winner which has been delighting audiences for years in both stage and film adaptations. Set in New York in the harsh years of the early 1930s, post-Wall Street crash and in the midst of extreme economic horror, Annie depicts the difficulties of the time while focusing on the possibility of change and progress, even when things look very bleak indeed.

Based on the book by Thomas Meehan, this current production, directed by Nikolai Foster, is a vibrant and sassy piece of social drama which is both earthy and energising and not too sickly sweet in the melodrama department. Instead, there is a realism and naturalism portrayed by the exciting cast of both children and adult actors who work beautifully in sync with each other to create a memorable piece of theatre. The staging is simple but effective as it moves from the orphanage to life on the streets, then to a palatial mansion and even to the President’s boardroom! Annie takes us through the scenes which cover a story which goes from the bottom to the top of society in the space of a couple of hours and in doing so, tells us that anything is possible. Annie is a child who will not accept her fate of being left lonely and forlorn and instead, she sets out to find her destiny and by doing so, chance has it, that her destiny finds her.

A real delight to audiences is the fact that the role of Miss Hannigan, the beastly matron of the orphanage, is played by the one and only Lesley Joseph, best known for her character Dorien Green in Birds of a Feather. As Miss Hannigan, Joseph is a match made in heaven. Playing the role with all the gutsy, grizzly fervour of an ageing New Yorker who has seen better days and whose only solace in life is now her booze, Joseph is a joy to watch as she does battle with the girls in her care and in particular, with the determined and forthright Annie. It’s all comical gold as to be expected from Joseph. Annie, played by Elise Blake is also mesmerising as she defies and ultimately, defeats her orphanage captor. Blake has real panache as she portrays the accent and attitude of the young American with real talent and capability. In fact, the confidence and ability in both singing and acting from all the young cast are really special to observe. It is easy to see that many of these young people will go on to successful adult careers in the industry in due courseif they so choose.

The role of Daddy Warbucks, played by Callum McArdle, is the key to Annie’s escape from poverty and hardship. McArdle depicts the hard-hitting, self-made billionaire who needs to touch base with his personal needs and not just his career demands, with real compassion and steely emotion. Holly Dale Spencer, playing Grace Farrell, is a delight to watch as she provides the lynchpin in the story of Annie and Daddy Warbucks, all done with a beautiful singing voice and serious 1930’s glamour. Another talented and considerably zany performance is given by Jonny Fines as Miss Hannigan’s jail-bird brother, Rooster. He is not a man you would want to leave your children with!

Some may say that Annie is predictable American schmaltz with all the well-known numbers from the score by Strouse and Charnin such as Maybe, Tomorrow and Hard Knock Life but this production is more edgy and conceptual in design and with more demanding choreography and innovative musical direction. However, the dog is predictably cute. Don’t wait until tomorrow to catch this show.

Runs until 9 April 2016 | Image: Paul Coltas


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