Annie - Musical Theatre Review

Just the name of ‘Annie’ can render many theatre-goers (even the most ardent musical theatre fans) full of moans and groans. Thoughts of high-pitched screechy singing, lack-lustre school productions with wobbly sets and an irritatingly cheery child come to mind. I’m not ashamed to admit I approached this production with some trepidation…

However, I’m absolutely delighted to say, Nikolai Foster’s engaging and detailed production has proved me entirely wrong. With more than a touch of ‘The Matilda Effect’ this production enthrals and delights in equal measure. Foster has clearly picked this show apart, studied every small detail, and slotted it back together with skill. A musical jigsaw that echoes the clever stage surround made from puzzle pieces – all maps and doodles and flashing New York lights.

Of course, the success of any production such as this often rests on the shoulders of its young cast. Each of the orphans (Team Liberty) had wonderfully clear personalities and Anya Evans gives us a thoughtful and layered performance as the eponymous red-head. Special mention must also be made of Jonny Fines and Djalenga Scott as the love-to-hate baddies Rooster and his saucy wife Lily. Fines in particular brings a thrillingly dangerous energy to Rooster, and you don’t get much better than watching these two dance furiously through my favourite number of the night, ‘Easy Street’.

Leslie Joseph does a fairly good job with what she is given, although is a somewhat cuddly, if grumpy, Miss Hannigan compared to some I have seen. Holly Dale Spencer as Miss Farrell is Grace by name, grace by nature – brave, intelligent and gorgeous to boot. And Alex Bourne as billionaire Mr Warbucks is a wonder. You cannot help but fall in love with ‘Daddy’ Warbucks as much as little Annie. The beautiful ‘Something Was Missing’ is simply gorgeous and a heart-melting end to the show.

I also enjoyed the detailed and fun work the ensemble put in to this production – there was always something to catch your eye and interest you. The trials and tribulations of the radio starlets, The Boylan Sisters made a short expositional scene into something truly layered. I also haven’t seen such tight choreography in years. Nick Winston’s astonishing work is a real highlight. Utilizing routines, moves and styles from the time-period add a wonderful sense of fun. Several moments left me gasping with delight. For example, the madcap tap routine effortlessly becoming a horse-drawn carriage to take sleepy Annie off on a trip round Central Park. Likewise, the choreography utterly saves some numbers that perhaps leave a little to be desired musically. In A New Deal for Christmas, some detailed work with Christmas presents and the cast of orphans leaves you grinning.

There’s a real sense of this production tapping in to the historical and social setting of the show – it strikes me that we don’t usually think about the Great Depression or the New Deal when we think of Annie. But this production puts the historical context front and centre, from the ‘bums’ of Hoover-ville who have lost everything, to the, admittedly quite cheesy, slow realisation of the New Deal. And therein is the utter skill of this production. It totally understands that although there are some moments, some songs, some dialogue that are somewhat tired or old-fashioned, it holds them up proudly and makes us feel… well… Fond. Cheery. Optimistic. In short, everything the musical intends us to feel. This is almost Musicals 101. We see all the old musical tropes, but presented with a new spunky energy. Even I was mouthing along to ‘Tomorrow’ by the end! I never thought I’d walk out of a production of Annie grinning so furiously and feeling so… sunny. Foster has definitely shown this old sandy dog some new tricks. Catch it whilst you can.

Annie
Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
Mon 30th May – Sat 4th June 2016

Credits

Cast

Molly - Andie Jordan
Pepper - Anna O'Hare
Duffy - Holly Parsons
July - Matilda Hopkins
Tessie - Sarah Huttlestone
Kate - Megan Haynes
Annie - Anya Evans
Miss Hannigan - Lesley Joseph
Sandy - Amber
Grace Farrell - Holly Dale Spencer
Daddy Warbucks - Alex Bourne
Rooster - Jonny Fines
Lily - Djalenga Scott

Ensemble and Swing - James Alan-Evans, Lewis Bradley, Nic Gibney, Sinead Kenny, Michael Lin, Alice Liveing, Callum Mcardle, Anne Smith, Kate Somerset How, Megan Louch, Ben Mundy, Steven Oliver, Heather Scott-Martin

Crew

Director – Nikolai Foster
Set and Costume Designer – Colin Richmond
Choreographer - Nick Winston
Orchestrations and Musical Director - George Dyer
Lighting Designer – Ben Cracknell
Sound Designer – Richard Brooker

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Monday 30th May, 2016

Author's review: 
5