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Annie (Cambridge, Corn Exchange)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Tomorrow is always going to a better day. Well, it is if you’re an optimist – and that’s something which Little Orphan Annie, the sassy 11-year old heroine of Harold Gray’s comic strips and the Charles Meehan-Chrles Strouse musical based on them, most certainly is. Put children on a stage at Christmas, add a dog with personality, and (in theory) you’ve the recipe for a successful show.

Roger Hannah’s staging has verve and allows for some good dancing but the sound balance at the opening performance took time to settle itself, so that much of the scene-setting at the orphanage became blurred. Carole Webster’s costumes look well and there’s an intriguing use of painted draw curtains and occasionally expressionist lighting with Alan Miller Bunford’s sets; a suggestion, perhaps, of films of the late 1920s and early 30s.

Annie herself is Rachel Hall, a poised young carrot-top who suggests that she’ll be a ferocious CEO if she ever inherits the Warbucks business empire. Simone Craddock sings, acts and dances well as the secretary Grace Farrell and Su Pollard as the tippling, deviously manipulative Miss Hannigan gives a suitably over-the-top performance. Subtlety is not a requirement here.

Oliver Warbucks is [David McAlister

, not always on top of every note in his solos but nevertheless making the tycoon into a genuine human being. There are seven players in the band, including musical director James Dunsmore and they make their presence felt, notably in the scene with the homeless and the dispossessed when there’s a real bite to the score.

Joe Connors plays President Roosevelt, a sort of deus ex machina in mid-20th century wheelchair mode. Rooster Hannigan, the brother who’s just got out of jail – and is patently on his way back there for a further stretch – and his girl-friend Lily St Regis make an engaging and flexible pair of villains as portrayed by Philip Andrew and Caroline Andrew. But Danny the dog steals the show even from the orphans. Of course he does.


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