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Annie (New Wimbledon Theatre and Tour)

Everyone's favourite red-headed orphan is in town

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Djalenga Scott, Craig Revel Horwood and Jonny Fines in Annie
© Paul Coltas

When Annie opened on Broadway in 1977 it was a smash hit, running for six years (a record for the Alvin Theatre that stood until Hairspray surpassed it in 2009), winning eleven Tony Awards and spawning countless productions around the globe. Three movie remakes have since further cemented the show's place in the musical theatre history books.

For 38 years, millions of people around the world have fallen in love with Thomas Meehan's witty book, Charles Strouse's rousing music and Martin Charnin's hopeful lyrics, and of course with little orphan Annie herself, a red-headed beacon of hope throughout the ages.

It's a shame then that this latest production, directed by the usually brilliant Nikolai Foster seems a little paint-by-numbers, an all too slick production that loses its heart amongst clunky scene changes and ill-judged stunt casting.

Of course the latter refers to Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, whose over-acted, hammy Miss Hannigan (Miss Hammygan?) adds nothing to the production, he's all swinging arms, stumbling feet and ill-fitting tights and doesn't seem to understand the difference between acting drunk and acting drunk.

At a time when there are already precious little roles for female actors, it is hugely disappointing to see what could be a show-stealing role sacrificed in the name of ticket sales. Just think what someone like Jenna Russell, Katherine Kingsley or Sharon D Clark could do in that role…

The show's saving grace is in the ebullient performances of the children in the cast. The motley crew of orphans is made up of three teams that share the performances throughout the week. Last night was the turn of Team Astoria, good news as their Annie is the remarkable Isabella Pappas.

Last seen playing Iris in The Nether - for which she was nominated for an Olivier - Pappas is a young actress with a talent way beyond her 12 years. Where Revel Horwood has done his best to suck out any fun from the production, Pappas injects it back in with aplomb.

That vim and vigor is equally matched by her fellow orphans - notably Nikoo Saeki as an adorable Molly - who completely school the adult members of the cast in how to present an energetic, exciting and infectious performance, even after five months of touring the UK.

Alex Bourne lends his dulcet tones to Daddy Warbucks, an amiable chap but there's little light and shade to the character, making the subsequent adoption of Annie inevitable from the off. There's also strong support from Jonny Fines as Rooster, who brings a new lease of life to the adult section of the company, his histrionics resembling the love child of comedian Lee Evans and the Tasmanian Devil.

There's some stunning moments of choreography from Nick Winston, especially in "N.Y.C", and the show sounds brilliant thanks to musical direction from George Dyer - I particularly enjoyed the rousing rendition of "Hard Knock Life". Colin Richmond's effective design borrows heavily from Matilda, the iconic alphabet blocks replaced by jigsaw pieces.

There's no doubt though, that the star of the show is Isabella Pappas, I don't know about tomorrow, but you can bet your bottom dollar that sometime in the near future she'll be a leading lady in the West End.

Annie runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 14 November before continuing on tour. For more information, click here.