Robert Tanitch reviews Annie at Piccadilly Theatre London W1
Little Orphan Annie, who first appeared in Harold Gray’s cartoon strip in 1924, made her stage debut in a Broadway musical in 1997.
Annie ran for six years and has been regularly revived by professionals and amateurs in the US ever since. It is a perfect musical for little girls and little girls have as much right to theatre as anybody else.
The music is by Charles Strouse and the lyrics are by Martin Charnin. There is one really good number which everybody remembers and that is the optimistic “Tomorrow”.
The book is by Thomas Meehan. The story is set during the American Depression. Annie manages to escape her horrible orphanage when she is befriended by Daddy Starbucks, an elderly billionaire, who was born poor but decided he was going to be rich. Annie approves. “That was a good idea” she says
The musical remains firmly in an innocent comic strip world of the 1930’s, which has fortunately never heard of Nabokov, and it is not afraid to be utterly sentimental. Annie is invited to the White House and even helps President Roosevelt to formulate his “New Deal” policy.
The orphanage is run by the gin-sodden Miss Hannigan who hates children. It is a great comic role and the musical would presumably not be having a revival in the West End if Amanda Hart were not playing her. Hart’s fans may be satisfied with her performance.
40 years on I still remember vividly that hilarious moment when Miss Hannigan learns from the billionaire’s secretary that he wants to adopt Annie. She asked the secretary to excuse her for a moment. She made a slow and dignified exit from her office into the vestibule and then went bananas, screaming her head off and rampaging round the four walls. Sheila Hancock (who played her) didn’t make a sound. It was all in brilliant, hilarious mime.
Amanda Hart and her director Nikolai Foster find nothing as funny for her to do in similar circumstances.
Something needs to be done about the sound. The show is far too loud and the amplified cast are often screeching rather than singing.