BWW Review: ANNIE, New Wimbledon Theatre
Set in 1933 New York, Annie is the well-known and well-loved story of Annie, an orphan living under the guardianship of the hideous Miss Hannigan. She dreams of being reunited with her parents who promised they would return for her when they left her as a baby. During her efforts to find them, she is befriended by the billionaire Mr Warbucks, who welcomes her into his home and proceeds to persuade the government to help find her parents.
Nicholas Foster's revival was first shown at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011, since then it has toured and been in the West End with various famous faces such as Miranda Hart and Craig Revel-Horwood starring as the awful Miss Hannigan. Now it is on another UK tour, with Lesley Joseph in the role.
Overall, there are some fundamental problems with the show; the story feels somewhat dated, the children in the cast can be a little shrill and the production frequently verges on cheesiness. However, this production is forgiveably saccharine down to a combination of the excellent cast, tightly choreographed dance routines and a very impressive set design.
Ava Smith makes a highly impressive stage debut as Annie on press night; full of brightness and courage, she hits all the high notes required, especially in a heartfelt rendition of "Tomorrow". She is very natural in the role and is instantly both vulnerable and full of attitude. She also handles Amber, the gorgeous Labradoodle who plays the stray Sandy, with aplomb.
The wonderful Lesley Joseph gives a highly energetic performance as Miss Hannigan and shows off a strong singing voice, particularly in a very funny rendition of "Little Girls". Although clearly revelling in the nasty side of the character, what frequently slips is her New York accent and therefore her role as a genuine old broad doesn't quite stick.
Alex Bourne is warm and sincere as Daddy Warbucks, with a genuine connection and affection to Annie. Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner are having a ball as dastardly double-act Rooster and Lily, while Carolyn Maitland is an elegant and refined Grace Farrell.
The whole production glides along due to the confident and incredibly capable supporting cast. The children are a blaze of energy and take over the stage whenever they appear. "Hard Knock Life" is a great mix of tight choreography and lively dynamism. The adult ensemble are equally well co-ordinated and bursting with energy.
Nick Winston's choreography and Colin Richmond's design really evoke the period; from the nods to the jazz period, to the set beautifully framed with illuminated jigsaw pieces of an old New York street map. The show moves from the orphanage, to the backstreets of the city, to Warbuck's glittering mansion with slickness and ease. Ben Cracknell's lighting also adds hugely to the show, revealing sharp changes in atmosphere and mood.
Annie is not a perfect musical, but the overriding feeling that remains after the show is warmth and optimism. And goodness knows we could all do with more of those at the moment.
Photo Credit: Annie The Musical Tour