Never work with children and animals, they say and as Annie gives us both – seven effervescent girls performing their socks off (different seven in three teams perform alternate nights) and the indomitable Amber, the four-year-old Labradoodle, who plays the part of Sandy, the stray that Annie befriends on the street – then the adult performers might well be in for a hard time. But, no. This wonderful feel-good musical is chock-full of infectious gusto delivered by an almost impeccable cast whose one aim, it would seem, is to bring unfettered joy and gleeful abandon to the full houses they are there to entertain. Almost.
Choreographer Nick Winston creates some vibrant set-piece ensemble dances and he coaxes his troupe of orphan girls into some magical musical moments. (Credit must go to Beth Eden, Casting Director, for uncovering this wealth of ebullient young talent) Nikolai Foster’s direction gives us full-on, no-holds-barred West End production values whilst retaining the subtle nuances of Thomas Meehan’s book. We shouldn’t forget that the show is based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strip and the waggishly real but zany characters are a testament to Foster’s high esteem for the original. Musical Director George Dyer enables the accessibility of Charles Strouse’s engaging music to flourish – there are some great songs in this, including ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Hard Knock Life’ and the dazzling ‘Easy Street’. Martin Charnin’s lyrics combine all the charm of the feisty young orphans with the street-recession realities of 1930s Manhattan: great city, of course – “after New York everything is Buffalo” we are reminded in the show.
Colin Richmond creates a fluidly fast-changing setting – the orphanage, the street, the palatial residence of Daddy Warbucks (“Is this a station?” chirps a gob-smacked Annie): the jigsaw motif reflects the attempts by Annie to piece together her origins. And Richmond’s costumes are effective and modish. All this is enhanced by Ben Cracknell’s atmospheric lighting that draws us in and makes us feel part of the action.
Whilst these are all integral and vital in creating a great musical it is the performers who take the highest plaudits in the show. Led by Madeleine Haynes as Annie (and Lola Moxom, Ruby Stokes) and her Team Madison of orphans (and Teams Lexington and Rockefeller), the stunning virtuosity of such young performers is a wonder to behold. The chorus has no weak links – everyone playing it to the hilt. Of the principals Alex Bourne (Daddy Warbucks) cleverly allows his big heart to gradually slip through his billionaire pomposity with intuitive and charming nudging from Holly Dale Spencer as his secretary, Grace Farrell. Amongst this vibrant ensemble of talent, though, two characters claim the spotlight for their own: Jonny Fines as Miss Hannigan’s chancer bro Rooster and his sidekick Lily – the tricky gold-digger delectably played by Djalenga Scott: they are a double act to die for. Singing, dancing, spouting one-liners and giving it large in the comedy stakes they liberally dispense some real welly and elevate the show from great to sublime. Dispensing this kind of unbridled brilliance these two are going to go far.
But… oh dear: what on earth possessed the producers to cast Miranda Hart in the role of Miss Hannigan? And what in heaven’s name was she thinking when she agreed to take it on? Her small-screen, flirty-titillation act really doesn’t work in these sumptuous musical theatre surroundings and her laboured vaudeville turn just doesn’t come off – never more so than in her trio with the dynamic duo where she is outshone, outclassed and totally out of her depth. As her TV alter-ego might impart, “this is the West End theatre, baby, i.e. no-go area for dweeby blurters”. Does it spoil the show? No – it’s just too darn good. But a casting re-think should perhaps be on the cards.
Review by Peter Yates
Set in 1930s New York during The Great Depression, brave young Annie is forced to live a life of misery and torment at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. Her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. Meanwhile, spiteful Miss Hannigan has other ideas and hatches a plan to spoil Annie’s search for her true family…
Miranda Hart plays Miss Hannigan with Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks, Holly Dale Spencer as Grace Farrell, Jonny Fines as Rooster and Djalenga Scott as Lily in the West End production of the London musical Annie at the Piccadilly Theatre. The title role of Annie is shared by Madeleine Haynes, 13-years old from Hadley Wood, Barnet, Lola Moxom, 12-years old from Rochester, Kent and Ruby Stokes, 12-years old from Hampshire. They are joined by three teams of young performers who play the girls in Miss Hannigan’s orphanage (see below). Amber, a 4-year-old Labradoodle, plays Annie’s dog Sandy. Completing the company are Russell Wilcox, Bobby Delaney, Keisha Atwell, Sophie Ayers, Nic Gibney, Patrick Harper, Ben Harrold, George Ioannides, Megan Louch, Benjamin Mundy, Ben Oliver, Heather Scott-Martin, Anne Smith, Kate Somerset How and Katie Warsop.
Theatre: Piccadilly Theatre, 16 Denman St, Soho, London W1D 7DY
Dates: currently booking to 6th January 2018