FringeReview UK 2016
Set during the Great Depression, thisliconic musical from the book by Thomas Meehan, with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, tells the story of Annie, an orphan, and her life-changing encounter with a billionaire.
This is a very classy production of Annie, with imaginative sets that dare to be symbolic as a jigsaw puzzle, depression-hit New York tries to piece together its future.
Madeleine Haynes shines as Annie – feisty, moody, but also tender and hopeful as an orphan in search of a kept promise from parents she aches for. The supporting cast of orphans are consistently strong and believable, and its the consistency across the troupe that adds to the star quality.
This is a very together cast, from young to old, and the story builds, the darker moments genuinely moving. Only occasionally did it feel a little hurried and could a pause here or there have given the emotional aspects more power.
Holly Dale Spencer sings beautifully and is a perfect foil as Grace Farrell for Alex Bourne who plays billionaire hard-nut softy Daddy Warbucks to perfection. I don’t use the word “perfection” often in a review but this really is a near perfect production of this schmalzy musical. Interaction between characters is sharp when needed and the songs are seamlessly woven into the narrative.
The message of optimism, at a time when tens of millions of Americans were out of work, the reminder that “the sun will come out tomorrow” is a bit overplayed in the script, but that repetition was something people needed to hear at a time when starvation and bankruptcy abounded. To fully enjoy this musical, you have to suspend your disbelief and go with that message. If you are a cynic, it might grate. Don’t be a cynic all your life! Annie offers a shamelessly positive outlook on life.
Inventive set design, some clever and effective lighting, accomplished and very tightly delivered dance numbers all give this production an edge of quality. Lesley Joseph gives Miss Hannigan plenty of harsh resentment without ever losing the clown comedy at the heart of her alcoholic orphanage manager Miss Hannigan. She swaggers, spits bile and jealousy, and sings “Little Girls” with hateful relish. And the comedy moments are all timed with fine craft.
The message of Annie is, perhaps, as relevant today as it ever was. Writer Meehan took Annie into the board room, a direct confrontation with the President and a reminder that, in dark despair, optimism is a powerful and important intervention. There’s an old saying in business: “Strategies are agreed in board rooms that even a child would say are bound to fail; unfortunately there is never a child in the board room.” Annie represents the challenge of the young, the honesty and directness of innocent youth. Children can unmake us. This musical gives Annie the chance to help turn America around and also to find happiness herself in the process. There’s a battle of good versus evil, but also of despair versus hope. The heart-warming and often witty nature of the songs, the simple and accessible story, fuse well with the grittier aspects of a country on its Knees and a core narrative thread of child alone. We can find love in the simplest, yet often most unexpected places.
From start to finish, the songs and dance routines were offered with huge skill, creative flair and commitment. Scene changes were often delightful surprises in themselves and the comedy timing was pitch perfect in all the right places.
This is an outstanding production of Annie. In places it more than trumps the movies in its realisation of songs and storyline. Go see it. We took three children ages 11-12 and all three loved it. So did this adult.