BWW Review: Your Kids Will Love ANNIE at Mirvish
Puzzle pieces cover the stage, invoking a sense of kid-centric wonder in Mirvish's ANNIE. With music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and a book by Thomas Meehan, ANNIE has stood the test of time as one of musical theatre's most beloved shows. Mirvish's production keeps the inspirational story and the hummable tunes - but offers a weird production concept that spends the entire show fighting itself.
We all know the story. Little Orphan Annie (Isobel Khan), "cared for" by the cruel Mrs. Hannigan (Lesley Nicol), hopes to one day be reunited with her parents. When Grace Farrell (Carolyn Maitland), the secretary to billionaire Mr. Warbucks (Alex Bourne), seeks an orphan to spend Christmas at the mansion, Annie jumps at the opportunity - enchanting Grace in seconds. Warbucks quickly grows fond of the little girl as well, and offers to adopt her - but Annie refuses, adamant that her parents are still out there. This sets Warbucks on a mission to find Annie's real parents - but it won't be easy - especially with the shady Mrs. Hannigan hanging around.
With so many revivals of this show, it's difficult to place this production. It's certainly not as modern as the most recent 2014 film - thankfully they've kept the setting to New York in the 1930s - but it didn't feel as classy as the most recent Broadway revival either. This version, directed by Nikolai Foster, takes on Dr. Seuss-like qualities - attempting to seem timeless when the time and place are very clearly established. It doesn't work. The cast, however, all do their best to very enthusiastically sell the story.
As Mrs. Hannigan, Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore in Downton Abbey) is a picturesque villain. With her signature rasp, Nicol stomps around the grungy set, barking orders at the little girls that live in her state-funded orphanage. Nicol plays drunk quite well as Hannigan - annoyed when anyone interacts with her, slurring her words and practically screaming through her songs.
For the opening performance, the lovely Isobel Khan played the role of Annie. Khan has a wonderful singing voice, with enough control to pull back for sincere moments like 'Maybe', or showcase power in the show's signature hit, 'Tomorrow'. The orphans joining Annie (played by Markeda McKay, Shechinah Mpumlwana, Sienna Civichino, Jaime MacLean, Ella Larivière, and Jenna Weir) were all delightfully charming, dancing Nick Winston's exciting choreography with ease.
In terms of character arc, Daddy Warbucks is given the most development. He starts the show as a busy, distracted businessman and ends a loving parental figure. Bourne gives a very compelling performance as the billionaire, with excellent vocals and a persuasive emotional commitment to the story. As his secretary, Grace, Maitland sings with a pleasant soprano, delivering a kind, supportive portrayal - but I thought there could have been more chemistry between her Grace and Bourne's Warbucks.
With its story of hope and catalogue of memorable melodies, it's no wonder ANNIE is still filling seats after 41 years. The kids in the theatre seemed to love what they were hearing - but in this production, you might feel compelled to shut your eyes when you take it all in.
ANNIE presented by Mirvish, runs through June 3, 2018 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St., Toronto, ON.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/annie
(main photo: the cast of ANNIE - Toronto Production. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann 2018 )