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Wolverhampton Grand


Annie, the enduring tale of a flame haired. little orphan girl from the New York suburbs who gets a chance to escape her ‘hard knock life’ seems to have lost none of its charm or appeal as this latest touring version does the rounds.

Based on an old comic strip Little Orphan Annie, the musical version opened on Broadway more than 40 years ago and remains a firm favourite amongst both stage schools and theatre producers alike.

Its success lies in its simplicity.  This is no Sondheim-esque tale of inter woven stories and complex musical arrangements, it’s a straightforward account of a feisty little girl who, through fortune, manages to get away from her tough surroundings and find a better life. There are no sub plots, no surprise twists and no agenda. Less, sometimes, can be more.

Musically, the show offers a great deal more than the two numbers it is probably best known for. It’s The Hard Knock Life and Tomorrow emerge as the songs that people most probably leave the theatre singing, though, to be fair, there are other tunes that work just as well.

Easy Street delivers a beautifully sleazy ‘jazz’ vibe to the proceedings while Little Girls offers Miss Hannigan (played with delicious drunken snarl by Anita Dobson) a chance to have real fun with the character.  

Ava Smith gave Annie a suitable level of schmaltzy appeal without stepping too far into the Shirley Temple school of cheesy cuteness - this is, after all, supposed to be a street wise kid straight out of New York’s Hells Kitchen.

 She has to be likeable, but she also has to be real. Credit to Miss Smith for giving us both.

Dobson delivers a gloriously dishevelled and booze fuelled Miss Hannigan, the orphanage owner with a questionable approach to care provision. Perhaps known best for her time as another famous drinker, Angie Watts, on EastEnders, she brings a raft of theatrical experience to the role and it is plain to see. This is certainly not a case of casting ‘someone off the telly ‘. She is simply right for the part.

Alex Bourne gives a kindly and mellow Daddy Warbucks, the billionaire who may have a direct line to the president but doesn’t necessarily have inner happiness. Bourne resists the urge to make the character bombastic or cold, preferring to give him the humility that ultimately makes the bond between him and Annie more believable.

Strong performances too from Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner as Rooster and Lily respectively and Carolyn Maitland as Grace.

Sandy the dog, is played with canine cuteness by Amber who stood and walked in the right places without relieving himself up a tree. I’ve seen human actors who have failed to achieve that, to be fair.

Colin Richmond’s set design brings out the contrast between the dingy backdrop of the New York slums to the brightly lit, opulent world of Daddy Warbucks’ rich surroundings.

A feel good, charming piece of musical theatre that continues to entertain wherever it goes. Catch it Tomorrow or any other day for that matter. To 23-02-19.

Tom Roberts


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