Annie was the first musical I ever saw: my cousin played Daddy Warbucks in his school’s production when I was quite young, so the whole family went along to see it (and enjoyed it, too), but this was the first chance I had to see a professional production. The show, which has been made into three films over the years, originally opened on Broadway in 1977 to huge public acclaim, running for six years.
With a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, the show is the tale of little orphan Annie, a spirited redhead living in an orphanage run by the dastardly Miss Hannigan. When she is taken in by a New York billionaire, her life changes for good.
The premise may be reminiscent of Oliver! (albeit set in Depression-era New York) but this production’s set reminded me strongly of Matilda, the most recent success in the line of musicals for children. Jigsaw pieces are scattered around the stage, which work effectively, but the result is a little bare. However, I liked the maps which decorated the stage.
Nikolai Foster’s production has several fantastic child actors, including the star of the show, Annie herself, played by Isabella Pappas, recently seen in The Nether and proving that even at her young age she is a hugely talented singer as well as an actress. Pappas has a gorgeous voice and her Annie is likeable, plucky and spirited: no mean feat as I do think that the character of Annie has great potential to be hugely irritating. Another young actress I really liked was Nikoo Saeki, who plays the cheeky and charming orphan Molly.
The show’s adult stars don’t shine as much as their younger counterparts. Craig Revel Horwood, Strictly Come Dancing judge, is entertaining as Miss Hannigan, but I couldn’t help thinking that a more “serious” actress could have brought something really special to the part. It also seems a shame to have given the part to a man, seeing as there is a shortage of decent roles for women anyway: perhaps the producers hoped to emulate the success of Matilda, which casts a man in the part of Miss Trunchbull. Alex Bourne is good as Daddy Warbucks, though Holly Dale Spencer is underused as his secretary Grace Farrell.
I did feel that there was no real tension or menace in the show: there was never any doubt that everything would turn out alright, no truly dramatic moments. However, the songs were powerfully performed, “Hard Knock Life” and “Easy Street” being standouts, along with, of course, “Tomorrow”. Plus, the production has a dog – a sure way to get bonus points. This isn’t a perfect production by any means, but it has enough going for it to be well worth seeing.