All I know about Annie is gleaned from Chandler’s love of it on Friends and other random pop-culture references. So it was about time I saw what the fuss was about for myself, over 40 years after the musical was first created!
I was invited along to review the show on it’s UK tour when it arrived at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton for just a few days.
If you don’t already know, Annie tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl who dreams of meeting her parents while she is under the wicked and not-so-watchful eye of the dubious and drunken Miss Hannigan in her orphanage.
Her luck seems to change, but all is not what it seems. Despite facing many challenges and setbacks along the way, her sunny disposition keeps her thinking positive and making friends as she goes.
I was a little apprehensive about this one. When you mix choruses of singing children with a potentially saccharine storyline and a plot that begs for a happily ever after, there is the possibility that the outcome will be cheesy and almost a little unbearable. I was concerned it might be a bit too corny for me.
I was delightfully wrong.
The orphan girls were astoundingly talented and an absolute joy to watch. They were feisty and cheeky and endearingly rough around the edges (if only in costume – their dance moves and vocal skills were utterly on point.) Each one was full of pep and fizz they almost stole the show. Almost.
Of course, Annie (played by Freya Yates) was a star by name and nature. How such a powerful voice can come from such a small person, I do not know. She blew me away.
Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan was undeniably a draw for many. I saw him perform at the Mayflower in Dick Whittington at the end of last year and he was fabulous, so I had high hopes for his return. This time, I felt he was a little less than polished – I wasn’t completely sold on his accent – but he did entertain us all and clearly enjoyed his role immensely (so much so that he nearly lost his wig at one point!)
I also loved Alex Bourne’s Daddy Warbucks, with his warmth, his clear love for Annie, and his fantastic singing voice. The whole cast was brilliant; completely in sync with their dancing and their vocals, and it really felt like a classic musical, complete with tap dancing and glorious harmonies.
And who could forget Sandy? I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say your favourite cast member may have more legs than you’d expect.
The set was top-notch and visually stunning and the whole production ran incredibly smoothly without a hitch; something you’d expect, but no easy feat with so much going on. The timing was impeccable and there were so many little details that enchanted throughout the performance; it was surprisingly funny, too.
The risk of this show becoming a pantomime was high; after all, Miss Hannigan could easily be a dame, and with the storyline set around Christmas, it might have felt festive. Thankfully, it avoided all that and we were left with a year-round family favourite.
Is Annie worth seeing? You bet your bottom dollar it is. This is a charming, heartwarming production that tugs at the heartstrings with just the right amount of sentimentality.
It’s delightful to watch. Annie whisks you back to a time of uncertainty and hardship during America’s Great Depression, but shares a story of hope, resilience, and optimism. You’re bound to be grinning by the end: after all…you’re never fully dressed without a smile.
Tickets gifted by Mayflower Theatre, but my opinions are all completely honest, unbiased and my own.
Images: Paul Coltas