The enthusiasm of the youngsters in the cast is infectious


Birmingham Hippodrome


It’s 42 years since 11-year-old Orphan Annie first stepped on stage so it takes something special to make our now middle-aged orphan look fresh, original and vibrant, and celebrated director Nikolai Foster has managed it with aplomb.

This new production sparkles with life to delight old and new fans alike from the talent and enthusiasm of its young orphan cast to the deliciously obnoxious orphanage superintendent, Miss Hannigan.

She is a lying drunkard, a cruel, bullying, unkempt and slovenly harridan who drives her charges unmercifully, feeding them slops, clothing them badly and forcing them to make garments in her sweatshop – and those are her good points!

 It is a wonderful performance from Jodi Prenger who staggers from scene to scene, bottle in hand, looking for any man with a pulse, and preferably money, belting out songs and showing glorious comic timing.

Her nemesis is Annie, played on Press night by Freya Yates, who, at age 11, the same as her character, already has an impressive CV including School of Rock in the West End.

The newborn Annie was left at the home by her parents who promised to come back for her . . . and that was 11 years ago, so don’t hold your breath.

She is one of three youngsters playing the role and she has a super voice, putting real heart into her big number, Tomorrow. Freya has the sort of timing and delivery you can’t teach making her an undoubted talent and one to look out for.

Her orphan friends, again three teams, Honey-Rose Quinn, Tilly Stephanie, Francesca Robinson, Aliya Bashir, Chancé Quaye and Tori Ryan on Press night, bring bags of enthusiasm to the party, with lively dancing and boy, can they sing . . . loudly, raising the roof with Hard Knocks Life. They are a breath of fresh air whenever they appear.

Annie’s life changes when she selected to spend a fortnight at Christmas with billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, played by Alex Bourne, reprising the role and you can see why. He has a powerful baritone voice, capable of superb softness, and a stage presence which matches the wealth and importance of the mega industrialist.

alex bourne

Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks

Carolyn Maitland as his assistant Grace is perfect in the role. She would fit into any Hollywood film from the period, the USA in the early 1930s, as the efficient blonde secretary. She is an attractive addition to the story and has the most wonderful musical theatre voice.

Daddy falls for his little guest and wants to adopt her – but first uses his considerable resources to try to find her parents – with a $50.000 gift for them if found!

If Miss Hannigan is a baddy, she is pretty low grade unless you happen to be an orphan, while her brother Rooster is a dyed in the wool, low-life felon, with a string of convictions and a recent release from Sing Sing. Richard Meek gives him a tongue in cheek dangerous air as he arrives at the orphanage looking for a handout, along with his girl, Lily, who slinks around seductively, in that gangster’s moll sort of way/

The trio give us a wonderful Easy Street as they plot how to turn Annie’s good fortune to their advantage.

We know their plan, Rooster and Lily posing as Annie’s long-lost parents, primed with Miss Hannigan's inside knowledge, is doomed, the fun being how they are going to be found out.

Gary Davis weighs in as Franklin D Roosevelt who, apparently, thought of his New Deal policy in depression ravaged America after a cabinet singalong of Tomorrow with Annie – not many people know that, as Michael Caine would say.

A mention too for Sandy, Annie’s adopted dog, played by Amber, a five-year-old Labradoodle, reprising the role and, it appeared, being paid the Equity rate of doggy treats.

There is good support from the ensemble cast with some interesting choreography, lifted from run of the mill, from Nick Winston, including a couple of tap numbers while Colin Richmond’s setting is deceptively simple. This is a musical with a lot of scenes but changes are made seamlessly with different doors and rear stages descending from the flies and props such as beds, sewing machines, a homeless camp and office furniture gliding in and out in moments.

An excellent eight-piece band under musical director Daniel Griffin add to every number with a well balanced sound from Richard Brooker and sympathetic lighting from Ben Cracknell.

Annie succeeds because it is an easy to follow plot and even though Harold Gray’s comic strip Little Orphan Annie never made it to the UK, the musical based on it is full of heart and has bags of feelgood factor, which accounts for its longevity and appeal, and this new production has given it a shine and sparkle to make it look as good as new. To 11-08-19

Roger Clarke


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