We all need a little ray of sunshine from time to time, particularly on a dreary winter Monday. And they don’t come much sunnier than Annie, the orphan who refuses to look anywhere but the bright side, no matter how rubbish her life gets.
Annie’s a classic, a musical we all know at least bits of; there can’t be too many people who haven’t sung along to Tomorrow at some point in their lives (come on, be honest). But there’s a lot more to this story than just a relentlessly perky redhead and a few catchy tunes, which is why director Nikolai Foster originally chose to revive the show back in 2011. It’s set during a particularly turbulent time in U.S. history, when many people – including children – were living in poverty as a result of the Great Depression, and the show doesn’t hold back when it comes to placing blame. And though the more political bits might go over the heads of younger audience members, they give the story a depth that often gets forgotten.
The children in this touring production are phenomenal, particularly Madeleine Haynes as Annie. It’s not just the singing and dancing, both of which are spot on; she’s also got brilliant comic timing, and is able to convey both Annie’s sunny disposition and her vulnerability, reminding us that when she’s not teaching grown men valuable life lessons, she is after all just an eleven-year-old girl who wants to be loved.
Olivier Award nominee Alex Bourne is a charming and instantly likeable Daddy Warbucks, the man who sees his world transformed by Annie’s arrival, and Lesley Joseph puts in a great comedy turn as the gin-loving, child-hating Miss Hannigan (although it’s a bit of a stretch to believe she and the much younger Jonny Fines are brother and sister, despite her energetic dance moves). And then there’s Amber the dog, whose appearances as Sandy are brief but memorable, and who almost steals the show from her human co-stars.
Designer Colin Richmond has created an adaptable set that encompasses the dingy orphanage, the dangerous city streets, and – in complete contrast – the shiny luxury of Warbucks’ home. The jigsaw puzzle design, enhanced by Ben Cracknell’s colourful lighting, provides the backdrop for the production and is a nod to Annie’s desire to piece together her own personal history.
And of course there’s the music, written by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, a lot of which I confess I’d forgotten. Besides the toe-tapping classics like Tomorrow, Easy Street and Hard Knock Life, there are some quieter numbers like the wistful Maybe, which recurs throughout the show, and others that I don’t remember at all, like N.Y.C., a glittering, joyous celebration of the city, which contrasts with the misery of previous scenes.
All in all, Annie is a feel-good show for all ages, with a fantastic cast, catchy songs and an infectious cheerfulness that will definitely have you feeling better about tomorrow – which is, after all, only a day away.
Annie is at the Orchard Theatre until Saturday 30th January.