Starting life as an American comic strip by the title of ‘Little Orphan Annie’, the journey of the titular character is one that audiences of a certain age will no doubt be familiar with. With a book release, stage tours and films, Annie is, without doubt, a beloved classic for many, and one that instantly sparks those childhood memories as soon as the iconic opening notes of Hard Knock Life are first heard.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story (there must be a couple of you out there), Annie is set in America during the great depression of the 1930’s. Banks were closing, savings just vanished, 15 million people were out of work, and debt was at an almost immeasurable level. It was a national crisis that forced so many in the country into instant poverty.
It is against this gloomy economic backdrop where the emotional show begins. Young girls find themselves under the care, or lack of, from vile orphanage owner, Mrs Hannigan, played by the wonderful Lesley Joseph, who’s dry, sarcastic tone and sense of timing did a fantastic job of bringing humour to what is, by design, a dislikeable, nasty character.
The audience is immediately sucked into the world of child labour and the reality the children are facing; young girls dressed in rags, forced to clean and live in squalor, all whilst maintaining a sense of togetherness and hope for a brighter future. Such togetherness and hope is conveyed through the instantly recognisable opening musical numbers, all of which are performed excellently by the talented young cast members. It is here where Annie starts the search to find her birth parents, but it was never going to be straightforward…
Every great story must have its ups and downs, the ‘good guys’ to be pitted against the ‘bad guys’, and in the case of Annie, it is the introduction of Oliver Warbucks that brings a renewed sense of hope, along with a paternal-like love that Annie craves. Warbucks, played by Alex Bourne, has a similar tale to tell to that of Annie’s, although his current lifestyle is vastly different to the one he endured during childhood. Annie is given a taste of this lifestyle, one that is the exact opposite to the life she is used to at the orphanage, but what she really desires is to be reunited with her birth parents.
Warbucks, moved by Annie’s wish to be reunited with her birth parents, puts his own wishes aside and utilises his vast resources, including President Roosevelt, to aid Annie in thesearch for her parents. With a certified cheque for $50,000 for the couple who can prove they are Annie’s parents, there was always going to be more twists to this tale…and they come in the form of Miss Hannigan, her brother, Rooster and his partner, Lily.
Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner, who play Rooster and Lily, have a noticeable chemistry on stage, and one that adds to their characters so much so that it is worthy of mentioning. Plotting together with Miss Hannigan, the trio hatch a plan to claim the $50,000 cheque for themselves. It is around this time that the individual performances really capture the emotional journey the characters are experiencing. Annie’s conflicting emotions, Warbucks’ disappointment but overriding sense of morality, and the trio’s selfish and immoral desires to claim what is not theirs.
As the story heads towards its conclusion the entire cast performance never dips below excellent, even though you’d perhaps forgive them for doing so considering that this is the final run of the tour. The energy in the performances is maintained as the audience is taken through the final musical numbers of Annie’s journey, all of which were expertly choreographed, with outstanding staging and transition.
Did Annie get her happy ending? What ever did happen to the evil trio? Did Warbucks find the love he so desired? We won’t spoil it for you, but you can find out for yourself and enjoy what is a wonderfully staged musical that will leave theatre goers of all ages with a smile – remember…you’re never fully dressed without one.
Annie is showing at The Regent Theatre until Saturday 23rdNovember. You can purchase tickets online from: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/annie/regent-theatre/