Review – Annie ****

Is there ever a time when there isn’t a production of Annie somewhere in the country? This particular version has been on the go for a few years, including a stint in the West End. Various stars have taken the leading role of Miss Hannigan but at the Orchard we were treated to Craig Revel Horwood, who is perhaps the most experienced in the part and commits to it fully.

Being such a well known show and with such a strong score, any production has to deliver something extra to stand out. I’m pleased to say this one does. From the start you’re greeted by an open stage with the dorm room of the children’s home ready and waiting in front of you. The set, strongly influenced by that of Matilda, is striking, with a jigsaw theme running all round, including the floor. Great lighting really brings it to life. Only one note of concern with the latter, and it was the follow spots. At the Orchard they’re positioned in the balcony very close to the stage and it seemed this close angle was giving them difficulty in following the actors without them occasionally slipping from the light or having a shadow cast across them.

The young cast of orphans are well drilled, powerful singers and excellent movers. They all delivered individual characters and impressively confident performances. I have to say, though, that the lyrics were not always clear. I can’t put my finger on exactly why but it seemed to me the sound balance between their young, high voices and the band didn’t work quite as well as it did for the adult ensemble. Speaking of whom, they were terrific. They sounded great and delivered crisp, tightly choreographed dance routines.

Annie at this performance was played by Ava Smith, making her professional debut. She was everything you could wish for in the role. The great thing about the part is that it’s written for a child and requires the actor to perform as one. I don’t like young performers, however talented, to sing adult songs about adult themes when they are required to generate emotions of which they can have no experience. In this part Ava was able to show her considerable singing power (she held some impressively long notes and phrases), combined with sure-footed dancing and a winning way with the dialogue. Her main co-star as Oliver Warbucks was Alex Bourne who was perfect for the part. A great presence and rich voice. I was also pleased to see his programme bio started with a reference to his part in Eugenius! – one of my recent favourites! Both of them narrowly avoided being out-shone by Amber the labradoodle in the key role of Sandy.

Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner are Miss Hannigan’s dodgy brother Rooster and his latest girlfriend, Lily St Regis. ‘I was named after the hotel,’ she says, giving Craig Revel Horwood the great comeback, ‘Which floor?’ The three of them get the stand-out number Easy Street, delivered with great panache.

And so to Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hanningan. Living up to his name he absolutely does revel in the excesses of the part. Her drink problem clearly threatens to overwhelm her. He chews through the dialogue with relish. He looks frightful in shades of orange, but at the same time you can see there was once a woman of a certain appeal there before the ravages of time, drink and orphans took their toll.

This is a glossy show with high production values. As well as the previously mentioned set and lighting there is an eight piece band which really fills out the score wonderfully. It’s a West End quality production through and through.


One thought on “Review – Annie ****

  1. Annie entered my life as a child through the 1982 movie- being for a time my favorite musical. The childhood musicals are special. It wasn’t until 2014 I finally saw the stage show- in St. Louis at the gorgeous Fox Theatre. Seeing Annie made me feel like a child- the nostalgia was there. Annie means a lot to me


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