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The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


Craig Revel-Horwood might be the headliner but the real star of this marvellous show was nine-year-old Zoe Akinyosade as Annie.

She has a lovely voice, powerful enough to rattle the rafters if needed, she can dance, and looks a natural on stage. Along with her orphan band, one of three teams of six young ladies, they stole the show.

Not that Strictly’s baddy was bad mind, indeed he was fabu-u-lous as Miss Hannigan, as he might have put it, along with his, or in this case, her constant companion who we presume was Jack, as in Daniels – Miss Hannigan having a penchant for liquid sustenance.

Revel-Horwood drunkenly staggers convincingly, generates a panto villain nastiness, has a fine voice and, just in case you had your score bats with you, manages all the dance moves with aplomb, not that I’m any judge as a confirmed dad dance champion. He also sports a fine pair of pins.

As for Annie, she was left at the orphanage as a baby back in 1922 and lives in hope they will come back for her. We are now in 1933, hope a little strained, with America still crippled by the crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression. Half New York’s factories had gone bust and almost a third the city’s workers were laid off, with many still employed forced into big pay cuts,

Amid the chaos Miss Hannigan runs the New York City orphanage-cum-sweatshop where the, let’s call them inmates, were forced to work as slave labour knocking out clothing for minimum pay – i.e. zilch - in Miss Hannigan’s moneymaking sideline.

Life’s unfortunates, the raggedy orphans, had found a bad life could get even worse, but after Annie sings a plaintif Maybe and we meet the cruel and strict . . . as a newt . . . Miss Hannigan, they launch into the first big number It's the Hard Knock Life, the first indication there is some serious choreography (Nick Winston) going on here.

It’s all too much for Annie who does a Steve McQueen and makes the great escape where she finds a friend, man’s best in fact, in Sandy, played on Press night by golden retriever Lily, who didn’t put a paw wrong.

Sandy is a stray, like Annie, alone in the world, and is told by Annie that things are going to be better in the show’s big standard number, Tomorrow.

To set the era Annie and Sandy stumble across vagrants in Hooverville, one of the shanty camps in parks and abandoned lots set up by the jobless and homeless singing their bitter message to the former president We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover.


Craig Revel-Horwood in a relaxed, as in well oiled moment, as Miss Hannigan

The police arrive, the camp is broken up and Annie is returned to the unloving clutches of Miss Hannigan whose loathing of her young charges is spat out with Little Girls.

It all changes when Amelia Adams arrives in the shape of Grace Farrell. Grace is secretary to billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who is so rich he can afford to pay both his gas and electricity bills!.

Warbucks wants to give an orphan a home for Christmas and Grace selects Annie – which is just as well or there wouldn’t have been much point to the rest of the show otherwise.

I remember Adams as the wonderful ex-showgirl Lois in Welsh National Opera’s Kiss Me Kate back in 2016, she has a truly magical voice which we only get to hear briefly in the final moments, a pity but the role demands other thing and she manages it all superbly, giving Grace bags of heart and character.

The scene has been set, so let the drama begin. Enter Rooster, played by Paul French, Hannigan’s con man, thief and all things illegal, supremely untalented brother. It’s a brilliant performance. He arrives, from jail, with his latest moll. Lily, played with a wonderful no so dumb blonde air by Billie Kay.

When the Annie and Warbucks scenario is revealed the Hannigan clan, gilded by Lily, see not so much well wishes for Annie, more the chance of a con that could put them on Easy Street.

Warbucks, confidently played by understudy David Burrows on Press night puts out an appeal to find Annie’s parents on the Bert Healy radio show which features a ventriloquist, shades of Peter Brough and his doll Archie Andrews here, you never hear his lips move, and the world’s only masked radio announcer . . . think about it . . . masks . . . radio?

Hnnigan tri

Craig Revel-Horwood as Miss Hannigan, Paul French as Rooster and

 Billy Kay as Lily

Along the way we meet President Franklin D Roosevelt, played by understudy Lukin Simmonds, who was standing in for David Burrows, who was playing Warbucks, who was . . .you get the picture. The President is impressed by Annie’s optimism, with another suggestion to look forward to Tomorrow.

All is going swimmingly and Annie is about to be adopted until Mr and Mrs Mudge arrive, the missing parents of Annie, who bear a remarkable likeness to Rooster and Lily, an uncanny likeness in fact.

The best laid plans of mice and . . . conmen. With J Edgar Hoover’s FBI  and President Roosevelt on the case the nefarious trio were never going to get away with it and end up heading off to a happy new year in jail as everyone else, including Sandy, live happily ever after today and, of course, tomorrow.

I can never remember a show directed by Nikolai Foster you leave feeling let down, and he doesn’t fail you here. He has the magic touch to bring new life and freshness to everything he touches, and Annie, dating back to 1977, could have been written yesterday.

The references go back 90 years but the production is bright, lively, fast paced and modern all aided by an excellent eight piece orchestra under musical director Joshua Griffith.

The set and costumes from Colin Richmond are deceptively simple and effective, Richard Brooker’s sound is well balanced and Ben Cracknell’s lighting highlights without intruding.

As for choreography, Nick Winston has produced some vintage routines, all superbly executed, which give us rebellious orphans and adult routines evocative of the 1930s, at home both now and in the era Annie is set. Clever stuff.

The result is a fabulous family treat for the holidays. Annie is a frothy musical making no demands, with no social points or agenda, no pause or cause for thought. It is just harmless, fanciful fun based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip which never made it to the UK.

Incidentally the role of Miss Hannigan was being shared with Paul O’Grady who died at the end of last month and at the curtain call Craig Revel-Horwood dedicated the performance as a tribute to the late star generating a heartfelt farewell round of applause. To 15-04-23.

Roger Clarke


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