Annie

Date 26th October 2017
Society Urmston Musical Theatre
Venue Urmston Leisure Centre
Type of Production Musical
Director Emma Harris
Musical Director Adam Garnett
Choreographer Rebecca Wood

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Author: Kevin Proctor

This rags to riches tale is based on ‘The Little Orphan Annie’ comic strip, so popular with Americans during the dark days of the depression which still hits the mark in these troubled times today.

Created by playwright Thomas Meehan and composer Charles Strouse, it's the sheer determination of the plucky little orphan girl to make the best of every situation which not only inspires New York's homeless but President Roosevelt's Cabinet as well.

Amongst countless Broadway and West End revivals, this musical was first seen on stage in 1977 and has since been performed by pretty much every musical theatre company whilst also being made into not one, but three musical film adaptations. The first being the glossy Hollywood version throwing the piece - head first - into the commercial ‘Annie’ most of us probably recognise today. Just over a decade later, Disney got a hold of it and rather than adding Disney layers, surprisingly, it was presented almost as a humble salute to the original stage show with the original Broadway Annie making an appearance as ‘the star to be’. And finally, most recently, the musical was given an entirely new hip-hop and RnB feel with Cameron Diaz as Hannigan and Jamie Foxx as Warbucks but … for many avid ‘Annie’ fans, the less said about that version, the better!

In shows like this, more often than not, its success lies with how robust and energetic the kids are and with these girls we had it in spades. The ensemble of orphans owned this show, constantly acting and reacting, keeping us engaged and never switching off or dropping their characters. They sang with vigour, danced with energy and didn’t let the technical issues (which this particular performance faced) knock their focus from soldiering on. I was really impressed with these girls, a grand job!

The Orchestra, led by Adam Garnett (first time MD for UMT) sounded majestic and the Overture didn’t fail to rouse and set the bar for what was to follow thanks to his fine collection of musicians. With every Broadway revival of Annie comes the release of a new Broadway album of the show (being a tad embarrassed to admit, I’ve collected them all) and the score has undergone a lot of modernisations and re-orchestrations each time it’s been brought back. Adam has evidently been inspired by one of the more recent Broadway recordings with some of its updates being added into this production, particularly noticeable in the vocal arrangements of ‘We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover’ and ‘I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here’ which certainly does make things a little more spirited for the ensemble sound and I can’t deny that it added some welcome layers to the musical presentation.   

Miss Hannigan - the alcoholic orphanage matron – played here by Kathleen Valentine gave us many of the stereotypical traits you’d expect which was most appreciated, she offered chuckles a plenty and her performance was certainly ample. To be sincerely comical in this sort of role an audience needs to be able to believe it, portraying too much of a caricature is a tad difficult to connect with which will drown out a lot of the deeper, heartier and subtle humour of the character. Many ‘Annie’ enthusiasts have their favourite Hannigan, for me it’s Carol Burnett all the way and I could certainly see that Kathleen had taken some influence from her portrayal whilst still adding elements of her own interpretation into the character too, a very favourable choice.

For me, the scenic design missed the mark on several aspects. The orphanage backcloth gave more of an impression of being in a Victorian drawing room in a British manor house and the Warbucks mansion set up looked anything but grand with exposed steal decking and heavy duty looking black treads for the staircase - but then, most absurdly, to see most of the players entering these scenes from what I can only describe as an under-the-stairs cupboard – visually, just didn’t signify what it needed to.  

Abigail Fernandez-Arias portrayed the central character, the fearless orphan Annie, offering everything the script asks of her and gave a charming portrayal. My main criticism here was her rather hurried dialogue delivery which diluted some of the emotion as well as vocal clarity, this will naturally rectify itself with more experience but for a first lead role Abigail must indeed be commended highly for such a confident presentation which she appeared to tackle with such poise and ease.

Matt Darsley gave a mighty persona as Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks, his character was extremely well rounded and exposed with aplomb – we witnessed the stern man we’re first greeted with develop into the loving Father whose heart is thawed by the innocence of the optimistic orphan. A very enjoyable and uplifting portrayal.

Oddly, Grace Farrell is a character I see so often misjudged by its actress but Lyndsey Florin exposed the sincerity and efficient status of Grace to good measures. Ben Thomas and Sue Mallett played the comedy villain duos Rooster and Lily to an upright degree, however, Rooster’s disguise as Mr Mudge was hardly an alteration from what we’d seen of him previously which posed a little curious when Miss Hannigan, his own sister, isn’t supposed to recognise him.   

“Never work with kids or animals” is a notorious expression amongst theatricals, this society and production team did so with gusto. Annie’s adorable pooch ‘Sandy’ was exactly that!

An excellent choice of show which has done precisely what I strongly suspect the management committee of UMT wanted it to: be the box office success it’s almost guaranteed to be!