REVIEW: ‘Annie’, Birmingham Hippodrome

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Annie‘, Birmingham Hippodrome

  Smash-hit musical ‘Annie‘ comes to the Birmingham Hippodrome for 3 weeks direct from London’s West End.

  The beloved musical follows the story of young orphan Annie, who spends her life scrubbing floors and sewing dresses at Miss Hannigan’s questionably-run orphanage, until she is chosen to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire Oliver Warbucks.

  Featuring the iconic songs, ‘It’s The Hard Knock Life’, ‘Easy Street’, ‘I Don’t Need Anything But You’ and ‘Tomorrow’, it’s hard not to fall in love with this musical all over again.

  The curtain rises on the interior of the Municipal Girls Orphanage and, with a teddy bear hanging from the central light fitting, we are transported to our own childhoods, wide-eyed and eager to watch the musical we have grown up with. The stage is framed by jigsaw pieces (some of which are illuminated during the show), appropriate given that Annie is desperate to piece together the mystery surrounding her past – Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she come to be in an orphanage? All the pieces of this musical fit together to form one complete, wonderful whole, as toe-tapping melodies, unforgettable lyrics, lovable characters and a sandy-coloured dog are a delightful antidote to life’s grey days.

The cast of Annie. Photo credit: Paul Coultas

  Set in 1930s New York during the Great Depression, the musical is not simply a light and airy tale that side-steps around contextual information. Possessing a richness that adds a dash of reality to an otherwise fairy-tale story, we see the devastating and far-reaching effects of the Wall Street Crash on the American economy. 15 million Americans are out of work – many homeless and living in Hoovervilles – factories are closing, businesses are reporting unprecedented losses, and Al Capone is on the loose. However, Annie encourages us to look forward to tomorrow, and her optimism inspires President Roosevelt to establish the New Deal, as he and his politicians burst into a reprise of ‘Tomorrow’ in a display of cheerful optimism that would certainly be welcome in parliamentary buildings today.

  The musical takes us from the institutional setting of the orphanage, to the splendour of Warbucks’ mansion, to the shimmer of Times Square, trading rows of beds for shows of wealth and luxury, and the pageantry of the Big Apple, with its yellow cab drivers, hot dog stands, and wannabe stars. There is a very telling difference between the costumes for this production, with the distressed, torn clothing of the orphans and homeless people a stark contrast to the elegant dresses and fashionable suits of the Warbucks’ household, exposing the gap between those living in poverty, and those fortunate enough to live in prosperity.

The cast of Annie. Photo credit: Paul Coultas

  The ensemble of orphans are brilliant, their performances energetic and charismatic, their vocals strong, their execution of choreography definite, sharp and sure.

  Ava Smith is splendid as plucky red-head Annie, and her performance has just the right amount of cheeky charm. Slightly older than some of the other girls in the orphanage, Annie is a source of comfort to many of them, and they couldn’t be happier for her when her fortune changes. Abandoned at the orphanage by her parents 11 years ago, Annie clings fast to the hope that she will see them again, her bright optimism and childlike innocence refreshing, given the lack of such in today’s world. Her sunny disposition and the joy she radiates is contagious, and one feels they can take on tomorrow with confidence after watching this beautifully hopeful, bright, beaming production.

  Jodie Prenger’s frequently-hungover Miss Hannigan hasn’t one maternal bone in her body. A liar, a cheat, and a drunk, Miss Hannigan despises the little girls in her care, and has a safe full of gin from which she often partakes to help cling to her sanity. Despite her villainous nature, you’ll love Prenger’s hilarious take on the character.

  Alex Bourne’s suited and booted billionaire Oliver Warbucks has a heart of gold. Having amassed great wealth over the years, he has a high social standing, is friends with the President, and has the FBI at his disposal. He vows to do all he can to help Annie find her real parents. However, taken in by Annie, he grows to love her, and looks to adopt her. The two share a very sweet, tender relationship, proving that biology is not a barrier when it comes to being a family, and Warbucks becomes a strong and stable paternal figure to Annie.

Alex Bourne (Oliver Warbucks) in Annie. Photo credit: Paul Coultas

  Carolyn Maitland’s Grace Farrell, personal secretary to Warbucks, is the picture of elegance and refinement, her exquisite vocals polished and precise. Taken with Annie as soon as she meets her, Grace doesn’t hesitate to take Annie to Warbucks’ Mansion, and she comes to adopt a maternal role in connection with the young orphan.

  Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner are a regular Bonnie and Clyde as recently released jailbird Rooster and blonde bit on the side, hotel heiress Lily St Regis. They see Annie as the key to cash, and the two hatch a plan to pose as Annie’s biological parents in order to claim the $50,000 reward prize Warbucks is offering.

  A triumphant production, this Tony Award-winning musical continues to secure its place as a firm family favourite.

  Met with thunderous acclaim and rapturous applause from the audience during the final bows, you’ll be wearing a smile from ear to ear throughout this production.

The cast of Annie. Photo credit: Paul Coultas

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