Paul Johnson | 12 Nov 2015 01:41am
Photo: Paul Coltas
This review is unashamedly directed towards the amateur community, where this particular show not only provides much of the sector’s regular bread and butter but will also be filling a huge number of bums-on-seats in venues up and down the country…
Over the years Annie must surely rank alongside Joseph and Oliver! as one of the all-time most-performed musicals by schools, youth groups and part-time theatre schools. With a potentially unlimited cast of 11ish-year-old (female) orphans, the inhabitants of depression-hit New York City and the vast staff of a Fifth Avenue billionaire’s mansion, the iconic show allows children’s productions to feature as many members as physically possible.
As such, with one attending more and more youth productions of Meehan, Strouse and Charnin’s world-famous musical, no matter how commendable and ambitious they may be one does lose track somewhat of just how many mature adult roles are actually featured in the original show. Also, the more children you attempt to squeeze onto any one stage, the easier it inevitably becomes to take a safer and safer option in terms of creativity and direction.
With that in mind, every drama teacher, every youth group leader and every part-time theatre school principal should get along to see the current nationwide tour of Annie. Starring Strictly’s irrepressible Craig Revel Horwood (or Leslie Joseph, who fills in during those busy Saturday evenings) and directed by Nikolai Foster, this is a rare opportunity to see a brilliantly creative but rare professional production which brings to life every element of the much-loved show.
Revel Horwood – who tops the bill as Miss Hannigan – leads the company by giving a master-class in stage presence with a multi-scene-stealing performance. Constantly drunk and with the thickest Bronx accent possible, the Saturday night TV judge finds a lovely balance within the exasperated, child-hating head of New York’s Municipal Girls Orphanage where you find it impossible to really hate the character.
Nick Winston does a great job choreographing some of theatre’s most famous musical numbers, particularly making the most to build on the three-way scenes between Hannigan, her con-man brother, Rooster (Jonny Fines) and his female sidekick, Lily (Djalenga Scott). Easy Street is not only one of Annie’s best numbers, but one of this production’s stand-out moments. The potential for comedy in these hilarious sections of the show can be all-too-often overlooked in amateur productions, but are real highlights in this touring version.
Another underestimated role – and a very difficult one for youth productions to bring off really successfully – is that of Warbucks. Here, Alex Bourne delivers a lovely example of how the hard-nosed industrialist with no time for children, softens and falls for an eleven-year-old orphan girl who comes to stay for the Christmas holidays. The latter scenes between Annie and the billionaire succeed in wetting the audience’s eyes although, interestingly, Warbucks’ blossoming relationship with Grace Farrell (Holly Dale Spencer) wasn’t as obvious and was noticeably kept to the sidelines.
…Which nicely leads to the real stars of the show, Annie and her six fellow-orphans. The production tours with three full sets of children – that’s a whopping twenty-one youngsters to chaperone, accommodate and tutor. So Children’s Casting Director, Debbie O’Brien certainly has her work cut out. But she’s certainly earned her money! On press night every member of Team Astoria was astounding with Isabella Pappas taking on and shining in the title role. From great ensemble energy and onstage chemistry with Revel Horwood’s Miss Hannigan, to Annie’s new life on Fifth Avenue, I couldn’t fault any of these young but mature performers.
So there we are – a truly wonderful show providing a wonderful lesson for all those future school and youth productions to take away with them. This is Annie perfection. And I guess if all else fails, I sincerely hope this new show will lay to rest the tradition for school and youth productions to constantly wheel out the ridiculous bright red curly wig in the name of the little orphan.
Annie is at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday, 14th November before continuing around the UK well into 2016.
Photo: Paul Coltas
- : admin
- : 10/11/2015