In 1979 I took our two daughters to see Annie at the Victoria Palace and they loved it. Last night, 44 years on, I took one of my granddaughters to see it at Wimbledon Theatre and she loved it too. The show is one of those hardy perennials that just goes on and on and refuses to die – and quite right too.
Annie with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and a book by Thomas Meehan, was first performed on Broadway in 1977 and went on to win seven Tony Awards before transferring here in 1978 and it’s been playing somewhere ever since, be it on tour like this production or in schools and AmDram productions around the world.
For those of you who haven’t seen it (there must be a few of you), it’s based on an American cartoon strip called Little Orphan Annie and tells the story of Annie who doesn’t think she’s an orphan and has been waiting eleven years for her parents to come and get her. Annie lives in a run-down orphanage run by the awful Miss Hannigan who makes the girls get up early, clean the orphanage and then spend hours sitting at sewing machines making clothes. By a stroke of great luck, Annie is chosen to go and live with the richest and most powerful man in America, Oliver Warbucks whose heart is melted by the delightful urchin and he tries to reunite her with her long, lost parents which leads to all sorts of shenanigans with lots of bad people trying to claim the $50000 reward.
Criticising Annie is a bit like criticising the life and work of Mother Theresa, so I won’t. It’s one of the all-time great musicals with classic songs like “Maybe”, “It’s A Hard Knock Life” and of course the iconic “Tomorrow” and they’re just the first three songs in the show. There’s also “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”, “N.Y.C” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” – at times it’s almost like a jukebox musical with all those hit songs with their wonderful melodies and clever lyrics. Meehan’s book matches the songs and there’s been no attempt to bring it up to date. There are some wonderful lines and a joke about Harpo Marx that will only be understood by people of a certain age!
So, with it being such a classic show, it comes down to the production itself and this show that has been on tour for a few years now, is first class and screams West End production values. Colin Richmond’s set is big, bold and brash with a frame of jigsaw pieces which director Nikolai Foster says is “a metaphor for Annie’s journey through New York”. The set changes are seamless as we go from the orphanage to Hooverville where the homeless live to Warbucks’ enormous mansion on 5th Avenue.
Another stand-out is Nick Winston’s choreography. The dancing from the young orphans to the adults is wonderful and a delight. The stage is full of movement even between scenes when Sandy the dog (played here by Amber the labradoodle) runs across the stage or the orphans ride across on a train for no reason. The whole production is a joy ably helmed by director Foster who keeps the energy pf the cast going for the whole show which is a feat in itself considering how long it’s been on tour.
Even with all the bells and whistles of a big musical like Annie, you need a great cast and this production has that in spades. The part of Miss Hannigan has been shared on this tour between Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revell-Horwood and Jodie Prenger (who does Saturdays when Revell-Horwood is on Strictly duties) so last night it being a Tuesday, we got the former who was full of energy and brio. Alex Bourne is patrician and statesman-like as Warbucks and there are also excellent performances from Amelia Adams as Warbucks secretary Grace and Paul French as the comically evil Rooster Hannigan.
Of course, you have to have a superb Annie to carry the show and last night we had the delightful Harlie Barthram who melted the audience’s heart as well as that of Warbucks. She was supported by a superb group of orphans who sang and danced their hearts out.
Annie is all about optimism and for a couple of hours, you can forget what’s going on in the world around you and enjoy some proper, old-fashioned escapism and for that, we should be truly thankful.
Review by Alan Fitter
Set in 1930s New York during The Great Depression, brave young Annie is forced to live a life of misery at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. Her luck soon changes when she’s chosen to spend a fairytale Christmas with famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. Meanwhile, spiteful Miss Hannigan has other ideas and hatches a plan to spoil Annie’s search for her true family…
Annie is at New Wimbledon Theatre from Tuesday 7th November, 2023 to Saturday 11th November, 2023.
Annie is at Bristol Hippodrome from Monday 20th November to Saturday 25th November 2023.