Monday, 21 March 2016

Nottingham Royal Concert Hall

This whole musical has been re-imagined, and what a makeover it's been given. It's fresher, more pacy but just as bright and breezy with just the right amount of social comment on poverty, neglect and greed to keep it grounded and relevant. It also has more of a dance feel to it with new choreographed pieces.

Annie has been left at an orphanage and is still confident that her parents are coming to collect her, one day. The orphanage is run by the nasty Miss Hannigan who gets them cleaning and sewing from the early morning till late at night and feeds them "mush".Her life changes forever when she is chosen to spend Christmas at billionaire Daddy Warbucks mansion, something he does every year for one lucky orphan. Warbucks tries to find Annie's real parents for her by a radio appeal and that's when the greedy worms come out of the woodwork. Enter the nasty Rooster, fresh out of prison and looking to lay his hands on some easy money to allow him, his girl Lily and Hannigan to live on "easy street". But we all know that in musicals, the bad guys never win!

The sets have changed from the depressing orphanage and opposite ends of the spectrum wealth of Daddy Warbucks mansion to a very clever "jigsaw" effect set, designed by Colin Richmond, which also echoes Annie's life, as she too is putting her life back together as in the pieces of a jigsaw. It's eye-catching and very fresh looking and draws you into the musical straight away.

The orphans never fail to impress me whenever I see this show and tonight they were amazingly good. Their choreography, from Nick Winston, was spot on and punchy, quite literally, and again with a modern edge. They do a wonderful dance routine to "Never Fully Dressed Withoout A Smile" and of course "Hard Knock Life".

The "Annie" I saw was played by the feisty Elise Blake. Annie has the biggest chunk of the singing and she coped with the vocals remarkably well. From the heartfelt ballad "Maybe" to the rousing theme of the show "Tomorrow" and the military style "Hard Knock Life", Elise took it all in her stride with great confidence.

Lesley Joseph, who I've seen play Miss hannigan before was on top form. The director, Nikolai Foster, also seems to have been doing some re-imagining of some of the characters and Ms Joseph's Hannigan seemed to have an even more spiteful bite to her, which I thought was great. The clothes for Hannigan were played down to reflect the dowdiness and there was a lesser focus on the alcoholic side of the character, it was subtly hinted at. Lesley is turning her portrayal into the ultimate Hannigan for me with some lovely choreography pieces, especially with Rooster and Lily.Looking ever so slightly like Cruella de Vil with the hair, she is one of musical theatre's best comedy baddie female roles. A role that Ms Joseph obviously revels in by looking at those twinkling eyes.

Warbucks is played by Alex Bourne and what a class act he is. the air of authority shines through the performance, and the way his character comes round to the idea that not all orphans are boys and warms to Annie is lovely to see. His singing and dancing talents are obvious and carries an air of Hollywood glamour with the role.

Grace, Warbucks right hand woman, is straight out of Hollywood musicals with that beautiful voice and classy outfits. She is the epitome of glamour. Played by Holly Dale Spencer, this is one lady who I never tired of seeing on stage. A well cast pairing for Warbucks.

Rooster is Hannigans' kid brother and he's after the money that goes with the reward when Warbucks puts up the money to find Annie's parents. There's not a nice bone in Rooster's body, well it obviously runs in the family. Jonny Fines sings and dances his way admirably through the role and also, if I'm not mistaken, has introduced more of a rooster call into the act as well as a bit more strutting about, just as his name implies.A brilliant confidence oozing performance who, if it were panto, you'd be booing whenever he appeared on stage.

Lily, Rooster's latest squeeze, has also had a bit of a change. Previous production has had her as a simpleton like gangster's moll with a squeaky voice. well that's changed and the voice has been lowered and she looks more classic gold-digger, albeit of the uptown variety. Djalenga Scott creates a more real version of Lily and turns in a classy performance.

Oh and we can't forget Amber, who played Sandy the dog, who didn't come on for her round of appaws at the end.

Musically there are many mics to be mixed with the musical instruments of the orchestra, under the direction of George Dyer. The mix between actor and orchestra, especially as there were many ensemble pieces with the orphans etc was perfect. You could hear every note from the orchestra and every word of the songs, the sign of a professional sound designer in Richard Brooker.

It's fresh, funny, has some classy dance routines ( I love a good bit of hoofing), songs we all know "Tomorrow", "Hard Knock Life", "Maybe", "East Street" etc. Characters who are lovable, even the bad guys, and a wonderful feel good, heart warming feel about the whole show. Whoever said never work with children or animals never envisaged "Annie" and I for one am pleased to say that this saying was completely ignored.

"Annie" is on at the Nottingham Royal Concert hall until Saturday 26 March 2016. You'd be a fool to miss it!

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