In 1979 I took our two daughters to see Annie at the Victoria Palace and they loved it. Last night, 40 years on, I took one of my grand-daughters 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’s before transferring here in 1978 and 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 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 (it was the 1930s) who falls in love with the delightful urchin in a paternal way (well it was the 1930s) and 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 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 With Out 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 whistle 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 Craig Revell Horwood and Lesley Joseph and at Wimbledon we got the latter who was full of energy and brio (although her accent waivered occasionally and was more Harlow New Town than New York). Alex Bourne is patrician and statesman-like as Warbucks whose heart is melted by Annie.
There are also excellent performances from Carolyn Maitland as Warbucks secretary and Richard Meek as the comically evil Rooster Hannigan.
Of course, you have a to have a superb Annie to carry the show and last night we had the delightful Ava Smith who melted the audience’s heart as well as that of Warbucks. She was supported by the six members of Team Empire State – due to child labour laws you have to have alternate children’s performances – and they were all terrific.
When reviewing a production, I always try and look for the subtext and see what a play or musical is trying to say. You could say Annie is trying to make a point about poverty, the fact that 1% of the population has 90% of the wealth, politics and politicians but we’re living in a climate of great pessimism and Annie the show and Annie the character is all about optimism and for a couple of hours, you can forget what’s going on around you and enjoy proper, old fashioned, pure escapism and for that we should be 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 and torment at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. Determined to find her real parents, her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. Spiteful Miss Hannigan has other ideas and hatches a plan to spoil Annie’s search…
With its award-winning book and score, this stunning new production includes the unforgettable songs ‘It’s the Hard Knock Life’, ‘Easy Street’, ‘I Don’t Need Anything But You’ and ‘Tomorrow’.
“ANNIE” has Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin and a Book by Thomas Meehan. “ANNIE” is directed by Nikolai Foster with set and costume design by Colin Richmond, choreography by Nick Winston, lighting by Ben Cracknell and sound design by Richard Brooker. “ANNIE” is produced by Michael Harrison and David Ian.
Lesley Joseph stars as ‘Miss Hannigan’ in the smash hit production of the musical “ANNIE” New Wimbledon Theatre (11 – 16 November 2019). Lesley joins Alex Bourne as ‘Oliver Warbucks’, Richard Meek as ‘Rooster’, Jenny Gayner as ‘Lily’ and Carolyn Maitland as ‘Grace Farrell’. The title role of ‘Annie’ is shared by Faye Katsande, Ava Smith and Freya Yates. They are joined by three teams of young performers who play the girls in Miss Hannigan’s orphanage.
Completing the cast are Michael Anderson, Thomas Audibert, Andy Barke, Caroline Bateson, Daisy Boyles, Blaise Colangelo, Gary Davis, Ashleigh Graham, George Rae, Anne Smith, India Thornton, Matt Trevorrow, Amy West and Samuel Wilson Freeman.
New Wimbledon Theatre
Mon 11 – Sat 16 Nov 2019
Book Tickets for New Wimbledon Theatre