Tomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin
Crossroads Live with Exposition Productions and Ramin Sabi
I lament for British theatre when almost everything I review is dominated by economic necessity and draws in audiences who will turn up for musicals but presumably not much else.
This is in stark contrast to London theatre in the 60s / 70s when the Old Vic was putting on Shakespeare to draw in the masses, the RSC and NT were founded and exciting new plays were put on at the Royal Court and at regional theatres like Nottingham Playhouse for pre-London runs. Now for theatres to survive, it would appear that everything needs to be musicalised to draw an audience in.
First performed in the US in 1977 at the time of the Vietnam War, the musical is based on a popular 1924 comic strip and earlier poem about Little Orphan Annie who survived the American Depression of the 1930s and made good in the end.
Annie is an impressive production in many ways but the music, especially the singing, is insistently double forte, strident and often painful, with words drowned out, in a style deemed suitable for blockbuster musicals.
On the positive side, the choreography (Nick Winston) is excellent, the pace of the performance impressive and complicated scene changes achieved with maximum efficiency. Much credit to director Nikolai Foster. The production faithfully replicates the style of 1950s American stage musicals and films of the period, and costumes and set design support this.
No doubt watchers of Strictly Come Dancing were interested to see what Craig Revel Horwood could do on stage and were impressed by his confidence, stage presence, acting ability and convincingly appearance as cruel Miss Hannigan, though he was outclassed by two female members of the cast, Grace Farrell as Amelia Adams and Billie Kay as Lily, who are better dancers. It was appropriate that with so many young children in the audience that he reined in a potential drag performance, except for occasional bra adjustment and a flash of knickers.
The exceptional performance of the night came from Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks, who created a fully rounded and convincing character and sang beautifully in solo and group numbers.
I was thoughtful about the very young girls in the cast. Things have moved on since the exploitation of Judy Garland and more recent exposure of Ghislaine Maxwell which revealed how vulnerable young girls can be. I was glad when I consulted the programme that there is a long list of chaperones lined up to support the children on their tour.
The group of child performers was drilled to perfection in their songs and dance routines and didn’t put a foot wrong. There was individualism, though this was expressed in increasingly frenetic action which they seemed to be enjoying. A strong and confident performance from Harlie Barthram who played Annie on the night.
An invigorating though over-loud evening in the theatre, which was well received by the audience.
Reviewer: Velda Harris