6 May 2019
When the story of ‘Little Orphan Annie’, the 1920’s comic strip, first made it onto the stage as a musical in 1977, it was an instant success. It has found huge popularity on the professional and amateur stages and often regarded as the female ‘Oliver!’ – an antidote to all those boys! Competition came in the form of the musical ‘Matilda’ which has also been a huge hit, but when a show is good, it doesn’t lose its sparkle if it is well performed.
This production was seen in the West End in 2017 and has featured a changing cast with the high-profile name in the part of the drunk and disorderly orphanage owner, Miss Hannigan. Currently it is undertaken by ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ judge, Craig Revel Horwood who has played the role a number of times over some years. Revel Horwood’s musical theatre credentials are not in doubt as a supremely talented performer, director and choreographer, but one just hopes that he isn’t being used as a gimmick in the show.
On every level there is nothing to worry about this production. It is first class.
A treat for the whole audience who were tightly packed at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, there really is something for everyone. First dibs go to the youngsters who are outstanding – three teams are used in the production and on this night it was Team Empire taking to the stage – no nerves here, just verve and attack and enthusiasm.
Heading up the girls is Ava Smith as Annie and what a tremendous professional stage debut. Full of guts and charisma, great comic timing and sings like an angel. Without a strong central performance, this show is nothing. This is a very, very strong performance.
In Alex Bourne we have a perfect Oliver Warbucks. Impressive in stature and voice and with an ease of delivery which is highly satisfying. There is real chemistry between him and little Annie which makes the poignant moments all that more effective – when they waltz together it is really uplifting. Carolyn Maitland is wonderfully touching as Grace Farrell, a rather underwhelming part, but here made special through elegance and a super singing voice.
Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner have huge fun as the ghastly Rooster and Lily – bang-on comic timing and versatile in voice and movement – a bit of a treat as a double-act.
With a lurch to the left and a buckled pout to the right, Craig Revel Horwood is just perfect as Miss Hannigan – a grotesque creation of ample bosom and rolling eyes. He gives full value to audience in the role which allows him to show off his very good singing voice and, of course, he moves brilliantly well – at times in a send-up of his own skills and at times with a fluidity which would be the envy of performers half his age. It’s a wonderful performance. My concerns about gimmickry are unfounded as he plays the part for all he is worth, but never beyond that. A joy.
In smaller roles it is worth picking out Gary Davis as a wonderfully avuncular FDR and Thomas Audibert who was standing in for the role of radio presenter Bert Healy and did an excellent job.
Lastly, we must not forget Amber who played Sandy, the stray dog that Annie finds, loses and is reunited with at the end. It shamelessly plays on the emotions having a cute child and a cute dog performing together – some stuffy folk may shout ‘Pah!’, but I swear many of the audience will have needed to dab their eyes.
The wonderful and inventive set designs by Colin Richmond (whose set for the recent tour of Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rough Crossing’ were one of the few highlights of that curious play) are complemented by the fabulous lighting design of Ben Cracknell. Richmond is also responsible for the costumes which are exquisite. Under the direction of Daniel Griffin, the orchestra too are at the top of their game and never out-play the performers on stage thanks to the sound design of Richard Brooker and with imaginative and incredibly slick choreography from Nick Winston, this is a total treat.
If I sound like I am gushing a bit, then maybe I am. I like to see great productions. This is one. A reviewers’ job is purely to do that, not to look for fault, but to offer up thoughts on what has been seen and heard. From where I was sitting, I could only admire, smile and wipe that eye.
Annie is probably not a ‘great’ show, but it is a very good one and this production is giving audiences across the country the chance to see it done as well as it can be.
And despite all those around her, Ava Smith received a standing ovation for a quite wonderful performance as Annie.
An evening filled with utter joy. A visually stunning production and performances as good as they can get. Go and see it ‘Tomorrow’ – or any time – if you can get a ticket!
CAST & CREATIVES
MOLLY – TIA GRACE ISAAC
DUFFY – ROMAINE JIJA-WAKEHAM
TESSIE – DULCIE ALLSOP
PEPPER – CHARLOTTE POURRET WYTHE
JULY – SASKIA SALMON
KATE – EMILY-MAY STEPHENSON
ANNIE – AVA SMITH
MISS HANNIGAN – CRAIG REVEL HORWOOD
OLIVER WARBUCKS – ALEX BOURNE
SANDY – AMBER
GRACE FARRELL – CAROLYN MAITLANS
ROOSTER – RICHARD MEEK
LILY – JENNY GAYNER
DRAKE – ANDY BARKE
MRS GREER – CAROLINE BATESON
PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT – GARY DAVIS
BERT HEALY – THOMAS AUDIBERT
MRS PUGH – SUSANNAH VAN DEN BERG
ENSEMBLE – MICHAEL ANDERSON, BLAISE COLANGELO, ASHLEIGH GRAHAM, MATT TREVORROW, DAISY BOYLES, AMY WEST, SAMUEL WILSON-FREEMAN
BOOK BY – THOMAS MEEHAN
MUSIC BY – CHARLES STROUSE
LYRICS BY – MARTIN CHARNIN
DIRECTOR -NIKOLAI FOSTER
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – DANIEL GRIFFIN
CHOREOGRAPHER – NICK WINSTON
LIGHTING DESIGN – BEN CRACKNELL
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – COLIN RICHMOND
SOUND DESIGN – RICHARD BROOKER