Eileen Caiger Gray reviews Annie at Sheffield Lyceum (June 4th 2019)
Full of feisty determination and sunny, inspirational optimism, little orphan Annie has been searching for her parents in shows all over the world since 1977. It’s still a great crowd-pleaser and one that brings good numbers of children into the audience as well as into the cast.
Colin Richmond’s stylised set, less lavish and specific than in some productions, is based around simple jigsaw pieces, perhaps symbolic of 11-year-old Annie’s puzzling parentage quest. In the artistic, cock-eyed shabbiness of the dingy, depressing orphanage, the dangling, disparate shapes, along with tatty teddies and stark metal bedsteads, are bathed in muted hues; in resplendent ballroom or substituting for Manhattan skylines and neon lights, the shapes are lit bright, bright, bright. Richmond’s costumes, like the gliding props, are very many and busily varied even amongst the dancing down-and-outs of the Depression.
The orchestra is stupendous, as is Nick Winston’s busy, demanding choreography, undertaken most enthusiastically by one and all. The orphans, in spite of Hard Knock drudgery, show their mettle in synchronised footwork, energetic leaps, bounds, swirls, climbs, jumps and coordinated jigs and foot-stomps. Winston gets his money’s worth out of the adults, too, with frequent, exhilarating dance routines, some encompassing clog-dance, roller skates and Gene-Kelly-sailor tap-dancing.
For faultless delivery of polished, self-assured performances this is a show that ticks all the boxes, and the children are outstanding. It does, though, lack some of the finer, heart-tugging, tear-jerking, tender interactions and emotional qualities of some productions until bald billionaire Oliver Warbuck (Alex Bourne) finally softens and warms right towards the end. The feeling in songs like Something Was Missing and I Don’t Need Anything But You shows that, at last, he fully realises that some things in life are infinitely more valuable than money and business.
Main ‘bums-on-seats’ attraction Craig Revel-Horwood obviously revels in his performance as depressed, inebriated, child-detesting, aspiring man-eater Miss Hannigan. Wallowing in self-pity, self-interest and hissy sneers, he slobs about in suspenders, flimsy robe and immense eye-make-up or more upright in a matronly frock, singing well and providing odd high kicks and swirls. For female performers, high-pitched, nasal American accents that require narrowed throats don’t do everyone favours in the production of their finest singing so it can sometimes grate. But there’s still plenty of good stuff on offer.
Of the three rotating Annies, Taziva-Faye Katsande was Annie tonight with modest plaits rather than shocks of gingery Einstein hair. Whole-hearted and shiny faced, full of self-assured focus and positivity, she inspires even wheelchair-bound President Roosevelt and his stuffy cabinet to come up with a plan for a brilliant New Deal to tackle the terrible ravages of the Depression on the people. Next stop Downing Street? – please!
Playing loveable, ah-factor, shaggy mongrel mutt Sandy comes Amber, an experienced actor who’s certainly up to scratch – though we suspect she’s only in it for the doggy treats.
The show tours on to Woking, Dartford, Liverpool and Milton Keynes. Miss Hannigan is then played by Jodie Prenger in Birmingham before Lesley Joseph takes over for Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Sunderland, Canterbury, Crawley, Belfast, Ipswich, Wimbledon and Stoke-on-Trent.