This review also appears in Western Park Gazette
Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by Paul Kerryson
Musical Director Ben Atkinson
Last year’s Curve Community production of Sweeney Todd got audiences’ blood pumping such was the talent on display in this chilling musical. Red returns to the stage this summer with the red-haired and red-coated Annie, a well-loved sunburst of a musical.
Annie is an orphan and although she’s felt the blows of a lot of hard knocks in her eleven years of life she is always charmingly cheerful and optimistic. Having escaped the orphanage via the philanthropy of Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks, Annie begins the search for her parents, convinced they are still alive. On her journey she meets President Roosevelt no less, melts the heart of Daddy Warbucks and finds the familial love she’s always craved.
Based on a series of cartoons originally printed in the New York News in 1924, Little Orphan Annie went on to appear in many newspapers and magazines throughout America. Annie the musical opened in 1976, won seven Tony awards on Broadway and has been performed all over the world. As a Curve Community production, amateur performers get the opportunity to work with the theatre professionals at Leicester’s flagship theatre, not least Artistic Director and musicals maestro Paul Kerryson before he leaves the theatre later this year.
However, Annie must be every producer’s nightmare, flouting the eminently sensible rule to never work with children or animals; there are a lot of children in this musical as well as a dog, and they must all tick the cute and loveable box.
The cast of orphans are wonderfully expressive and play their parts with verve and buckets of enthusiasm. Amelia Harding as Molly almost steals the show, easily winning the prize for cutest cast member. But what of Annie herself? Starring roles are tough for anyone but the daunting weight of the whole musical must be carried by a young girl. Step into the spotlight Hannah Everett – a confident and assured performer pulling off a very good New York accent and rather suspect wig, she is bright and bonny and clearly someone to look out for in future productions.
Mary Jean Caldwell, masterful in last year’s Sweeney Todd, is impressive as orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, marinating in booze to dull her dislike of the orphans in her care. Caldwell’s small frame belies her powerful voice and stage presence.
As with previous productions, both the main and Studio stages are utilised and with a big cast this is effective in the busy New York street scenes. There are nice uses of period photographs, a reminder this story is set in the Depression of the ’30s when many people had very little to be cheerful about, making Annie and her optimism that bit more special. Austerity measures continue with a rather sparse set but not by Musical Director Ben Atkinson and his eight musicians giving an impression of many more with their big band sound.
The trouble with this musical is all the best songs are in Act One and the story becomes increasingly unbelievable yet predictable after the interval. Yes, I know this is an exaggerated tale and one we should all take heart from but it begins to drag. Also, this is a young cast and not all can play characters way beyond their years.
Overall though this is a competent production, successfully overcoming many potential pitfalls. A firm family favourite, you can’t help but be cheered by Annie and her unstoppable optimism and it’s one of those musicals where you’ll be humming Tomorrow way into tomorrow.
PS Special mention must be made to Ted for his moving portrayal of Sandy, Annie’s four-legged companion.
Annie is at Curve until 10 August, tickets and further information here
Images by Pamela Raith Photography