Annie Jr

Date 4th December 2022
Society Darlington Academy of Performing Arts
Venue Humersknott Academy
Type of Production Musical
Director Joanne and Paul Mason
Stage Manager Annabelle Crosby-Stewart
Choreographer Joanne and Paul Mason


Author: John Holliday

With less than a week’s rest after their last production, Darlington Academy of Performing Arts returned to Hummersknott Academy for their 2nd major production, Annie Jr. Although featuring several cast members from their last show, this also gave them the chance to showcase more of their younger members.

The show had a lovely warm feeling from the start, with makeshift orphanage beds littering the stage and the main principals on camp beds in front of the main stage – maximizing the available space. DAPA, such is their strength of membership, were able to have the main orphans split into 2 teams across the 4 shows and if the Saturday team were as strong as what I witnessed then they have some seriously good up-and-coming talent.

Each of the main orphans gave us lovely vocals in the opening number, Maybe, with a special mention to Chloe Gowling as Molly who stole the audience’s hearts with her cute yet incredibly cheeky characterization, a great voice and lovely projection for someone so young.

The other girls all carried off their individual characters with such strong conviction; there was sass, attitude and they all owned the stage throughout the production. Brilliant performances from Isla Celik, Emily Henson, Lucie Bell, Ellie Price and Ella Wallace in these vital parts.

The whole cast had so much energy jumping from Orphan to President to Usherette but every single one of them dazzled on the stage – the chorus numbers were perfect vocally and the ensemble routines were fabulous. I’d love to name you all individually, but rest assured you were all brilliant – every one of you carried off your character parts perfectly. I have to quickly mention Ria Aujla who had the most amazing voice in the small cameo role, Star To Be.

When the whole cast combined some magic was created on stage and in “It’s A Hard Knock Life” the whole stage came to life, a wonderfully choreographed routine carried off with an amazing amount of energy and vigor.

On the Sunday evening we had the pleasure of watching Elena Stephenson in the title role, Annie. What a brilliant display from this young actress; faultless vocals, a wonderful acting style being able to bring a huge range of emotions to the stage and her interaction with the other cast members looked effortless. Her rendition of Tomorrow had the hairs on my arm standing up and her relationship with Sandy, played by the delightful Ella-Rose Thompson was gorgeous. I was still barking along to this version all the way home, and for the following few days.

The adult roles in this production were taken on by the more senior members of this Academy Group and they all rose incredibly well to some tricky character roles. Freya Moir took on most women’s dream role, Miss Hannigan, and had a lovely nasty side to her. She gave us a lovely comical number in Little Girls, mixing well with the juniors and showing off a very accomplished singing voice. Her main involvement in the show is with her brother Rooster, a fabulous and confident performance from Bea Hall, and his girlfriend Lily delightfully played by Camryn Mason. The three of them worked very well together and the number Easy Street gave them all a chance to show off not only their vocal ranges but some terrific and dancing ability.

As Annie is rescued and taken to a new life, the staging was tweaked very effectively to show the transition and indeed difference between Miss Hannigan and her new “mother figure” Grace. Madison Parkinson took on this key role on the Sunday and it was great to see a warm and soft character from this talented actress. It was a very different role from the previous week as Elsa, yet she again owned the stage bossing around the fellow servants with ease and again hitting us with some cracking vocals.  

What is great about a musical like Annie is the transformation of characters and none more so than Oliver Warbucks. Lewis Waters expertly showed a great change from snooty businessman to caring and loving father, not an easy job in this shortened production but it was very effective. It was a really heartfelt performance and his duet with Annie of I Don’t Need Anything But You was truly believable.

Huge credit must go to the production team and in particular Joanne and Paul Mason. These youngsters worked their socks off, the costumes were perfect, lighting highly effective and despite the ages of the cast this show moved along at a great pace with minimal pauses for scene changes.

I’m not sure there is a more spine-tingling ending to a musical than that of Annie and I know I speak for the rest of the audience that we all went home feeling a lot warmer on the inside that when we arrived. Thank you for all your hard work over the last fortnight and the months leading up to the last 2 shows, enjoy your well-deserved rest and I can not wait to come and join you next year for some more knock-out performances.