Star rating: *****
I’ve seen Annie many times, I first fell in love with the movie when I was 6 years old so I know the show inside out. This was the first time my little boy (aged 5) had been introduced to it and it has certainly left an impression on him for all the right reasons.
The show follows a straight forward story of an orphanage, badly run and homing little orphan Annie who is convinced that she is special because she isn’t an orphan and her folks are still alive, due to come for her at any time. That’s due to the broken locket she wears around her neck and a note that states they will be back for her and they have kept the other half of the locket. The fortunes of the spunky little girl are set to take a turn for the better when she coerces Billionaire, Oliver Warbucks’ secretary, Grace into choosing her to be taken under their roof for the festive season. This big adventure occurs despite the meddling of Orphanage Manager, Miss Hannigan – she’s rotten through and through but perhaps not so clever and conniving as her brother Rooster and his latest ‘moll’ Lily St Regis (named after the hotel!). It’s a race against time with the help of President Roosevelt no less, to stop the wicked trio from scuppering Annie’s chances of adoption.
The songs from the musical score are superb and timeless, from ‘It’s the Hard-Knock Life’ to ‘Easy Street’ to ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile’ – they’re toe-tapping numbers you can’t help singing along to.
This particular production is spectacular, the set is stunning and fits the era beautifully. Scene changes are seamless and the ensemble are a well-oiled machine in their timings. The orphans are a delight, all with belting voices and surely big careers ahead of them in years to come.
Freya Yates is a perfect choice for the title role, she brought heart, soul and oomph to the part of Annie. She had lovely chemistry with Alex Bourne who cut a dashing figure as Oliver Warbucks. Carolyn Maitland was gentility itself as the secretary who steals Warbucks’ heart, Grace Farrell. Richard Meek gives an energetic, sly and slippery performance as Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s jailbird brother – he simpers and plots with Jenny Gayner as Lily St Regis. Gayner is a terrific choice for the role, I’d seen her step into the spotlight as Annie in the Calendar Girls musical in the West End and she was a sensation then – she is exceptional as Lily. Stealing the show just ever so slightly though, is the fantastic Jodie Prenger as Miss Hannigan. I’ve seen many actors play the role and no-one is a patch on her. From the comic timing, the facial expressions and interaction with the juvenile performers, to the show-stopping performance of ‘Little Girls’ and ‘Easy Street’. Prenger has to be seen to be believed, she is flawless – the best Hannigan ever.
With three weeks to catch this fabulous production at Birmingham Hippodrome, I whole-heartedly suggest you beg, borrow or steal a ticket (Rooster will help you out!). With all of the uncertainty in the world we live in, a show full of hope is just what’s needed.
Book your tickets here: Birmingham_Hippodrome