Stagecraft: Book: Performance
You’ve gotta love Annie, one of the most perfectly paced & melody packed musicals of the modern era. Created for Broadway in the 70s by Charles Strouse (music), Martin Charnin (lyrics) & Thomas Meehan (book), it was based on the adventures of ‘Little Orphan Annie,’ a 20th daily comic strip set in New York. So is Annie, but Guys & Dolls it definitely isn’t. There’s not much of the city at all – only one sing ‘NYC’ giving us any geographical pointers. But the story is timeless, & could be set in any major city of the modern world. Annie is an eleven year old foundling, but one of some spunk. Taken in one christmas by the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, the story revolves around Annies search for her parents & Oliver’s attempts to adopt her, which are challenged by the Miss Hannigan – the orphanage boss – & her scoundrel of a brother, Rooster, hell-bent on the $50,000 offered by Warbucks to the real parents of Annie. Around this fun & cutely fantastic plot are a number of classic tunes, such as ‘Its a Hard Knock Life’, & the eternal ear-worming, still singing it as I write this, ‘Tomorrow.’ This last number is of course the musicals leibmotif, & one particular reprise encompasses the essence of Annie – its when she finds herself with President Rooseveldt & manages – through the media of song & dance – to lift America out of the Depression and inspire Roosevelt’s New Deal (The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow…)
This particular revival has been brought to us by Nikolai Foster, artistic director of Curve in Leicester, & you can feel the love of the Annie musical he must have, for his version is truly a joy to watch. Five years after its first appearance at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, of its birth Foster told the Mumble, “like a lot of people, I’d vaguely been aware of Annie & had the view that it was saccharine-soaked with all these moppets dancing around doing jazz-handy stuff. I hadn’t given it the attention or respect that it deserved. Then about five years ago, I was rehearsing a production of Kes at the Liverpool Playhouse & there was a touring production of Annie playing at the Liverpool Empire. I though it’d be a bit of a laugh, however it was very clear that this was an incredibly well-structured, intelligent, socially relevant piece of writing. I felt so stupid that this brilliant Broadway musical had passed me by.”
As for last night’s performance, I was like a massive big kid loving every minute of it. Elaine C Smith was superb, pure comedy timing from a quality comic.Her battle with Annie – one of personality versus power – was highly entertaining. Annie was irrepressible, a multi-talented lassie who, despite being dwarfed on stage by the old uns, dwarfed them all with her sheer ability. She will be a massive star, this one, if she avoids the many teenage pitfalls of our modern age. Saying that, Jonny Fines, as Rooster, was class – oozing cool & dancing like Hermes on the winds he was an addictive spectacle indeed. There was also Sandy the dog who darted across the stage with accurate & startling regularity, & the six little lady orphans, despite their scruffy attire, gave vivacious performances &, my god, the whole was just bloody brilliant. A cross-generational, cross-status, multi-faceted crystal of a musical, Annie, & in particular this Annie, are a must watch for us all.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen