Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strip, first published in the New York News in 1924, and running in print successfully for a staggering 44 years, Annie first made it to Broadway in 1977, and to the silver screen in 1981.
The enduring tale of the adventures of an eleven year old orphan who, left at the New York Municipal Orphanage as a baby, dreams of being reunited with her parents. At the hand of the drunken, child hating, Miss Hannigan, the life of Annie, and her fellow orphans, is bleak. That is until the day billionaire business tycoon Oliver Warbucks decides to invite her to spend Christmas with him, to ease his social conscience and share his privileged existence, for a little while. Of course, it is Warbucks who benefits most, and Annie’s eternal optimism spreads light not only at Warbucks’ 5th Avenue mansion, but as far as the White House itself.
Along the way, there are villains – in the shape of Miss Hannigan’s ne’er-do-well brother Rooster, and his latest floozy, Lily St Regis, who set out to impersonate Annie’s long lost parents in order to receive a fat reward and dispose of the girl. Of course, in this impossibly feel-good musical, no harm will come to Annie, and you know the baddies will get what’s coming to them.
The irrepressible Su Pollard revels as the grotesque Miss Hannigan, and sings a couple of knockout songs proving what a powerful singing voice she has; ‘Little Girls’ and ‘Easy Street’ (with the oily Rooster – Philip Andrew, and the perfect dumb blonde Lily – Sophie McEwen) are show highlights. David McAlister (as Warbucks) and Simone Craddock (Grace Farrell) both sing superbly and make the most of their roles. The stage of course belongs to the children, and lead by the delightful Victoria Sian Lewis as the eponymous little heroine, and with sterling support from Sandy the dog, this is a real crowd pleaser. Add such enduring, and heartfelt songs as ‘Tommorrow’, ‘Maybe’ and ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’ and how can you go wrong?
Sadly, Chris Moreno’s large scale touring production doesn’t bring anything fresh to Annie, and this 30 year old musical is rather showing its age. But it is a winning formula: Sassy children, live animals running around the stage, cartoon baddies and catchy songs; so, judging by the audience reaction on press night, he is perhaps wise not to mess with it too much.
Annie is at the Mayflower, Southampton until Saturday 26 February.