Thomas Meehan
Crossroads Live and Michael Harrison Entertainment.
Sunderland Empire

Listing details and ticket info...

Craig Revel-Horwood as Miss Hannigan Credit: Paul Coltas
Cast on stage
David Burrows as Franklin Roosevelt
Alex Bourne as Oliver Warbucks

Set in New York in the 1930s, this is basically a Cinderella type story of little forsaken girl who makes good.

The show opens with the exposed set of a dormitory in an orphanage with six beds. The first number throws you straight into the story. Annie (Zoe Akinyosade, one of three girls who play the part) is a story about hope and believing all is possible, not a bad premise to live one’s life on.

Annie is an orphan under the jurisdiction of the dreaded Miss Hannigan (Craig Revel-Horwood—played by Jodie Prenger on Saturdays). She becomes entrusted to the billionaire Mr Oliver Warbucks (Alex Bourne), where her life dramatically changes.

While probably best-known as judge on Strictly Come Dancing, Australian born Horwood is the only judge to have been on every show except one when he had COVID. Apart from being a former drag queen, he is an author, dancer, choreographer, conductor, theatre director and actor with no mean voice, no ends to his talents, almost as iconic as the musical he is appearing in. He even has a waxworks in Madame Tussauds in Blackpool. He started his career as a dancer in Melbourne, moved to London to take advantage of the greater opportunities available there and to dance competitively. In 1989, he moved to the UK and in 2011, he became a British citizen.

There are many songs that you may know even if you’ve never seen the musical. Most notable are “Tomorrow” and "It's the hard Knock Life". Other songs include “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”, “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, “Annie: Little Girls” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You”. It even has a live dog, Sandy (Amber), and what child can resist that? I do not use the word ‘iconic' lightly as to say exemplary and quintessential, because this mega-powerful, professional production is iconic. Apart from a company of over 40, its history is exceptional.

Originally a poem, Little Orphan Annie, written in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley, was made into a New York Daily News comic strip in 1924 by Harold Gray, going on to become an American radio drama in 1930, and first made it into film in 1932 by RKO. There have been several film versions since. It opened in 1977 on Broadway and ran for nearly six years; it is the 13th longest running American musical in Broadway history. It has been translated into 28 languages and played in 34 different countries—one could say iconic!

One sees a lot of productions in the profession and rarely one so well produced (by Crossroads Live). The set (Colin Richmond) is exceptional, as are the scene changes, flowing from one place to another seamlessly; the lighting (Ben Cracknell) is perfect, each actor and scene beautifully lit, ‘spot’ on; the costumes (Colin Richmond) add greatly to the characters and scenes, with the choreography (Nick Winston) enriching the action. Very few productions are perfect, of any, but this is as close as you will get; an absolute pleasure to see such good work, well executed, text, cast, production and direction (Nikolai Foster) using the stage so well.

Moving from the ‘perfect’, and this is not unusual in other first nights, the sound was very loud in the first few scenes, making much text unintelligible and only because people knew the songs was it understood; the children appeared to be shouting madly—even lowering the bass would help. Another ‘puzzle’ is the meaning of the jigsaw pieces, which figure prominently in the set; while they provide numerous colourful spots of light, what relevance, if any does a jigsaw play in the story? I was not the only one to be perplexed by their dominant presence.

Judging by the packed, animated theatre of families, one can see why this is one of the most popular musicals ever. As Roosevelt (David Burrows) says, “you are never fully dressed without a smile,” and this show will certainly put a smile on your face. This UK tour ends in Bristol 25 November, so time to see it in your area.

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

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