Review: Annie at Nottingham Royal Concert Hall.

four star

Directed by Nikolai Foster, this touring production of the musical Annie is bound to gladden your heart and  occasionally bring a tear or two to your eyes. Internationally, the musical (Book by Thomas Meehan, Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin) is a multi awarding winning stage hit and this upbeat revival touring production is the perfect example of why.

Originally conceived in 2011 by Nikolai Foster as a West Yorkshire Playhouse production, a place now synonymous with exceptionally high quality musical theatre, this – less saccharine – more grit and gutsy – stage version of Annie is absolutely brilliant in its execution.

Foster’s clever production portrays well the feel of the era of US Depression (1930s) when millions were out of work and scores of families were left homeless, scraping a meagre living holed up in shantytowns known as ‘Hoovervilles’. At the same time businesses were going bust in an unprecedented manner across the USA. Franklin D Roosevelt was the newly elected president and he and his government had the unenviable task of trying to restore the country’s fortunes and rebuild the shattered lives of the people of America.

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Despite the theme of the 1930s Depression era there is much here to enjoy; the exceptionally talented children playing the orphans are proper, entirely believable, little troupers and manage their high level performances without outshining the adults. Each child actor playing their role is wholly endearing and full of individuality. The actor’s saying about “never work with children or animals” doesn’t apply in Annie. Adults, juveniles and cute dog alike are all integral to making this show work and it works and gels terrifically. The Team Rockefeller played the orphans in this evening’s performance.

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Elise Blake playing the tile role of Annie is superbly cast. She has a winning personality, delivers a very strong performance and her vocal talents are top notch. The audience are with her every inch of eternally optimistic Annie’s determined search for her real parents. During the tour three girls share the role of Annie. The other girls are Anya Evans and Madeleine Haynes.

For the part of the tour that includes Nottingham Royal Concert Hall actress Lesley Joseph plays Miss Agatha Hannigan, the awful, child hating, disillusioned, alcoholic owner of the orphanage. Joseph is a well known face from her television comedy roles including the very popular Birds Of A Feather and she reprises her part from the West End production.

Joseph’s vocal style for her role is no broad ‘Nu Yoick’  Aggie Hannigan but that hardly matters in Lesley Joseph’s superb overall interpretation. Interestingly for an actress known for her comedy she imbues her character; a bitter woman, discontent with her lot in life, in a mostly straight performance with jewels of comedy shining through when needed. This balancing out of the role works much better than just being a comic villain. Joseph also has a fine singing voice and her rendition of ‘Little Girls’ is a show stopper.

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Wealthy billionaire businessman Oliver Warbucks is portrayed by Alex Bourne and Bourne gives us an assured, if originally distant, confidence in his part as he takes orphan Annie into his home and eventually his heart. Bourne has a great stage presence borne (no pun intended) from his many years of stage experience and natural charisma.

From Warbuck’s invite to take in an orphan over the festive holidays (Christmas) he gradually takes to the sparky young girl and in doing so his character goes from marginally distant to having the honest warmth and vulnerability of a protector or parent. Most endearing are the aspects of humility he injects into his part in the latter part of his friendship with orphan Annie. As Warbuck’s assistant Grace Farrell – Holly Dale Spencer is charm itself and enchanting in her singing throughout.

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Jonny Fines and Djalenga Scott are totally wonderful as roguish bad boy and bad girl Rooster and Lily especially in the song ‘Easy Street’ and when they pretend to be Annie’s long lost parents.

There are some great upbeat dance numbers choreographed by Nick Winston and these are supported well by the fabulous,  defined and balanced orchestration (George Dyer). There is more choreography than usual  in this revived version of Annie and the echoes of the Jazz Age work well in the movements.

Insanely catchy songs

Additionally, there are plenty of well known and insanely catchy songs in Annie such as ‘Tomorrow, Hard Knock Life, Maybe, We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover, Little Girls, I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here, N.Y.C, Easy Street, I Don’t Need Anything But You and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.’ Most of these catchy and emotion filled songs guarantee the audience a profundity of ear worms for weeks to come!

The whole hard working ensemble look as if they are having a thoroughly great time in this show and Amber as Sandy the dog is tail waggingly good.

Colin Richmond’s splendid New York map and jigsaw puzzle inspired set delivers as a versatile backdrop and a metaphor for Annie’s journey through the tough streets of 1930s New York. Richmond is also designer for the many and varied period costumes.

If you are looking for a fabulous night of musical theatre you should grab yourself a ticket for Annie. You’ll not regret it. Pop along to the box office tomorrow. “Tomorrow tomorrow ah luv ya tomorrow…”

Reviewer: Phil Lowe

Annie runs at Nottingham Royal Concert Hall until 26 March 2016.

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