Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Kelyn Luther
Who doesn’t need the optimism of plucky orphan Annie in a doubtful political climate? Whilst the show can be transported to other eras (such as the recent film adaptation), its spirit and many of its references – the play on name of Warbucks (war profiteering), the need for optimism amongst mass employment and the American Dream-are specific to Depression-era New York. Wisely, producers David Ian and Michael Harrison retain the original setting, but how does it work for a modern audience?
Quite well as it turns out, although in an attempt to retain a contemporary edge there were a few unnecessary nods towards the musical production of Matilda. The stage is bordered by distracting puzzle pieces and the choreography for the orphan gang feels anachronistic. It’s an unnecessary concession to please a modern child audience, seeing as the most enjoyable aspects of the production are in how it captures New York in the Depression era. Nick Winston’s ironic choreography for Hooverville is a nice nod towards Charleston and thirties Broadway.
Ava Smith was playing Annie on the evening of this review. Rather than your typical little moppet, she brings a streetwise maturity to the role, allowing her character to progress as Daddy Warbucks offers her the childhood she dreams of. Providing the cute factor are Tia Grace Isaac as littlest orphan Molly, who is comic rather than cloying- and of course adorable Amber, who plays Sandy the dog. It’s to Smith’s credit that she doesn’t let her furry colleague overshadow her.
Craig Revel Horwood is suitably nightmarish as gin-guzzling grotesque Miss Hannigan, with a petulant bitterness that is quite childlike. He uses his experience as a pantomime dame to know how to play to an audience, particularly the children, and clearly enjoys the role. Obviously, we know he has the footwork from Strictly Come Dancing, but his voice has the right Broadway belt.
The only performance that lacked something was Richard Meek as Rooster; he is convincing as a conman on the make but it never feels that Annie is in serious danger from him. Even though most of the audience may know the show, the moments of menace shouldn’t fall under the radar.
There are some vocal issues with the ‘Noo Yoik’ accents in some of the songs; perhaps this is the dialect coach attempting to bring grit, but it’s particularly distracting when poor Annie has to sing ‘dee’ and ‘gree’ in Tomorrow.
You might not immediately think of Annie as an example of a classic musical, but as well as the famous ones like It’s A Hard Knock Life and Tomorrow, there’s little gems like NYC, a, love letter to New York City. And how can you not grin at You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile?
Ultimately this production is heartwarming and doesn’t fall into a cloying sentimentality, the obvious trap with orphans, animals and benevolent billionaires. It’s solid but a few reservations mean it falls short of four stars.
Touring nationwide | Image: Paul Coltas