Did the critics bet their bottom dollar on West End revival of Annie?
Nikolai Foster's production sees the red-haired orphan return to the West End for the first time since 1998
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage
"It's not a bad moment for this revival of Annie to open. Amidst gloom, uncertainty and random acts of violence, what the world needs is a feel-good musical featuring a plucky orphan, a shaggy dog – and a glistening message of cast-iron hope and optimism."
"...hearing Annie's resilient assertion that "the sun will come out tomorrow" a few days after a terrorist attack on London, felt apt rather than Pollyanna-ish. Annie is a show that asserts the value of courage and endurance, just as much as it celebrates unconditional love."
"This production, fluently directed by Nikolai Foster, also has the benefit of a kind of rough theatrical magic. Its scale fits perfectly into the relatively compact Piccadilly and Colin Richmond's designs manage to be both glittering – the bright lights of New York dazzle – and simple at the same time."
"Nick Winston's choreography is inventive and tightly danced, and the singing, under George Dyer's direction, is both audible and meant. Ben Cracknell's lighting adds massively to the overall effect, creating quick changes of mood and atmosphere."
"The real stars are the children and the team I saw – led by Ruby Stokes as Annie – were as confident and cute as you might expect, with excellent comic timing."
"Hart is an attractive presence on stage, with a voice that lends considerable punch to Hannigan's big party piece about her hatred of little girls. She's at her best when being most herself – sinking to the floor slowly to take a slug of gin, or kissing Daddy Warbucks' head in awed admiration. The problem is, she's a warm actress and her character is not a pleasant one; she's cruel, unkind and given no chance of redemption, which is a bridge the debutante cannot cross... The dog Sandy is played by Amber and is, of course, heartwarming."
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard
"[Hart] brings a fruity vigour and eccentricity to the part, and her rapport with the audience is warm. But vocally she has real limitations, and it's not easy to accept this essentially goofy performer as someone who'd contemplate getting mixed up in abduction and murder."
"Charles Strouse's score and Martin Charnin's lyrics have a catchy charm. But while director Nikolai Foster, keen to emphasise the story's setting amid the poverty and injustices of Depression-era America, conjures the atmosphere of the Thirties, he can't mask the thin characterisation in Thomas Meehan's script."
"There are other problems. The quality of the sound is patchy, and the tone of some of the performances is shrill."
"Still, there's plenty of verve from the younger members of the cast, with a total of twenty-one actors rotating in the seven youthful roles... Right now their infectious vitality feels essential, as does the spirit of the show's most famous lyric — the inspiringly hopeful ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow'."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"I've been a devotee of Nikolai Foster's stylish revival of Annie – perhaps the schmaltziest, most winningly spirited musical ever fashioned by American hands – since its 2011 premiere in Leeds... More than that, though, I'm a fan-boy of La Hart; for me she can do no wrong, precisely because she's that rare bird, a comedian who's unafraid to muck it all up, courting embarrassment as she fails to get to grips with "adulthood"."
"Half gorgon, half goofball, all round pleasure, she daftly-deftly combines menace with physical comedy, lurching into view through scary-tall dormitory doors, sending her grubby young charges screaming as if from a fire-breathing dragon."
"Choreographer Nick Winston ensures the two-hour shebang is as nimble-footed as its long-installed (arguably superior) West End rival Matilda – even the Labradoodle playing Annie's sidekick stray Sandy doesn't put a paw wrong. My 12-year-old daughter Anna (admirer of the mirabile Hart, spokes-girl for the Miranda generation) came out beaming, albeit shrewdly wanting Alex Bourne's Warbucks to be sterner at the start."
"Perfect, then, as anticipated, for the summer and the school-holidays but, more unexpectedly, for these jittery, fear-filled times too; a potent juvenile rallying cry to resist hard-knocks and fight back."
Dominic Maxwell, The Times
"...while its chief selling point — the West End debut of Miranda Hart — is actually one of the less impressive elements of this Annie (she has comic charisma, while not looking entirely convinced by herself as the nasty orphanage manager Miss Hannigan), Nikolai Foster's revival is otherwise just what the doctor ordered."
"Slickly staged, buoyantly performed, motored by cracking musical set pieces and an expert mixture of naivety, whimsy and wit, it puts a smile on your face and a tear in your eye."
"...the storytelling is a finely judged mixture of celebration and satire, of nasty villains (Jonny Fines and Djalenga Scott as the spiffily dressed Rooster and Lily) and good-hearted authority figures you would like to think were in charge (Russell Wilcox as Franklin D Roosevelt.)"
"Ruby Stokes, one of the three girls playing Annie in this run, is demure and indefatigable. She has a small frame, but a big singing voice. She's terrific. And, yes, although Hart's singing is spirited rather than slick, although her American accent is highly perishable, you're glad of her comic brio in those moments when she suggests Hannigan as a gin-glugging wreck rather than a gorgon."
"Hart gets top billing, but really it's a colourful cameo. The show is the star. And its mixture of open-heartedness, wit and pizzazz enables the little orphan inside us all to see off our enemies. For a couple of hours, anyway."
Michael Billington, The Guardian
"...for all her strenuous attempts to convey the child-hating nastiness of the orphanage boss, Miss Hannigan, there is something essentially likable about Hart. She works hard and sings and dances capably, but it's difficult to accept her as an accomplice, as the role demands, to abduction and possible murder."
"But Hart is this revival's selling point and I feel decidedly ambivalent about her performance. She is suitably authoritarian as the whistle-blowing, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan; she sadistically pummels an orphan's teddy bear and highlights the character's sexual repression whenever a man is rash enough to enter her domain. She can also carry a song, as she shows in her musical diatribe against "Little Girls". But, while I admired Hart's professionalism, I never quite felt, as I did with Sheila Hancock's exuberant performance in the original West End production, that this Miss Hannigan possessed the instinctive villainy of Mrs Squeers from Dickens's Dotheboys Hall. Hart, I suspect, has too much heart."
"...It remains a mildly pleasurable family musical but, given the current climate, its faith in the beneficence of the rich, a progressive American president and the good intentions of governmental agencies now seem recklessly optimistic."
Mark Shenton, The Stage
"...Never mind that she doesn't so much belt her songs as bellow them, Hart brings an eccentric air of baffled but winning charm to the role of Miss Hannigan."
"But the great joy of Nikolai Foster's production – originally staged at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2011 – is how lovingly it conjures the period, and how lightly and brightly it plays the show without sending it up, yet also not drowning it in earnestness."
"Colin Richmond's set may echo Matilda's jigsaw lightbox pieces a little self-consciously, but it has spectacle and makes smooth transitions between locations. An advertising jingle heard in the show states, "You're never fully dressed without a smile." Audiences who leave the Piccadilly Theatre beaming may find themselves feeling over-dressed, so wide will those smiles be."
Annie runs at the Piccadilly Theatre until 6 January 2018