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Annie, Footlights Youth Theatre, The Nuffield Theatre, 29 Feb - 3 Mar


Combine the Great Depression, a sickeningly sweet title character and a conceited Republican hero, inter-mingle them with whining insomniac orphans and a drunk or two and you’ve pretty much got the thrust of Annie. Despite its less than appealing attributes, this production, as is often the case with the stage version, was considerably more enjoyable than I anticipated.


Right from the off the orphans set the bar pretty high, kicked started by eight-year-old Cerys Burnside as Molly who is clearly a star in the making. To the orphans’ enormous credit the reprise of You’re Never Fully Dressed in act two really stuck out as the exceptional centrepiece to the show.


One performer who could hardly be described as a rising star - ‘seasoned thespian’ would perhaps seem more apt - was 11-year-old Rosie Mellet in the title role. She confidently took the show by the horns and barely let it go. Faced with playing a far from loveable character, Rosie was perfectly irritating throughout, really shining in the musical numbers and is perhaps one of the best talents to come through Footlights.


The Miss Hanigan, Rooster, Lily St Regis trio provide some of the best comic relief in musical theatre and Katherine Evans, Nick Rew and Lauren Caffyn in the respective roles were well-equipped to notch up a sufficient number of laughs. Predictably, Easy Street was another highlight, giving Nick the opportunity to unleash the full extent of the showmanship that emblazoned Be Our Guest into my memory many shows ago.


Natalie Thorn did a good job of playing Grace, the smug-verging-on-bland character constantly hiding her affections for her employer, while Tom Chenhall gave an aptly flippant and pompous portrayal of billionaire Warbucks. Both were at their best in the act one number N.Y.C.


Despite a body of quality principals, the action did tail off at times when the more confident performers weren’t involved in a scene. That said, however, the chorus took the opportunity to shine in the Herbert Hoover number which made a positive lasting impression.


It’s easy to forget that the film interpretation does a huge injustice to stage show which actually has a lot more to offer - although admittedly the absence of the politically-correct Punjab character is one undeniable negative.


All the nauseating factors from the film were still very much there, and in significantly greater force with regards to the orphans (probably about 15 of them), but somehow all were less offensive to the senses; diluted perhaps by the ‘magic’ of live theatre and a cast youthful laugh-hungry performers.


Oh, and top marks to the dog.