Book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin
Produced by Chris Moreno
Palace Theatre, Manchester and touring

Taking the decision to see a reprisal of a favourite musical is always difficult. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? What if the singers can’t sing? And, god forbid, what if the producer has altered the score?

Most theatre-goers have a soft spot for a particular performance. Or fond memories of a specific musical. But everyone has at least one production they would happily watch time and again. For this critic, Annie is that show.

Maybe you need to be of a certain age to fully appreciate this musical. Although the original Broadway production opened in 1977, for many children it was the 1982 film adaptation that put Annie on the map. What a cast: Albert Finney as billionaire Daddy Warbucks, Carol Burnett as the permanently-soused Miss Hannigan, Tim Curry as her conniving brother Rooster and Bernadette Peters as Rooster’s moral-free girlfriend. And, of course, little orphan Annie herself, played by Aileen Quinn.

And the songs, the songs. Age cannot wither them. Charles Strouse’s music and Martin Charnin’s lyrics are as fresh and appealing today as they were more than thirty years ago.

So it was with a degree of trepidation that the British Theatre Guide left the warm embrace of a centrally-heated house to venture into Manchester’s chilly city centre last night. Mercifully, there was no need to worry. The curtain rose at the Palace Theatre to reveal a rag-tag bunch of orphans whose vocal talents and on-stage energy propelled the show forward until the final note.

In between, a glut of flawless numbers were performed flawlessly by a cast, well, perfectly cast. Su Pollard, perhaps best known for her role in TV’s Hi-de-Hi!, was agreeably dishevelled as the disagreeable orphanage supervisor Miss Hannigan while Simone Craddock as Mr Warbucks’s secretary mixed just the right amount of sassy New York woman with lovelorn assistant. Just one criticism of the otherwise faultless David McAlister: please don’t be tempted to make Oliver Warbucks too cuddly early on, his irascibility is his charm.

Given the fact that Annie is set in the early 1930s, one might wonder just how relevant it is today. In fact, the scenes set in a Hooverville (where people made homeless by the Great Depression came together) and in an Oval Office pondering the problem of how to resurrect the economy feel perfectly timed. After all, what could be more apposite in today’s world than characters who fret about the stockmarket and want to get people back to work.

But none of this would work so well if the actress playing Annie wasn’t up to the job. Three girls share the title role and last night was Victoria Sian Lewis’s turn. It must be daunting to carry such a successful show on such young shoulders. But, if she felt any nerves, Victoria did not betray them. She sailed through the most memorable tracks, from ‘It’s the Hard Knock Life’ and ‘Maybe’ to ‘I Don’t Need Anything But You’. When buttressed against older members of the cast belting out ‘Easy Street’ and ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’, Victoria looked and sounded the part. Thanks to her, the audience faced the rainy journey home with the conviction that the sun will come out tomorrow.

Annie runs until 12th November, 2011 at the Palace Theatre

Reviewer: Helen Nugent

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