When Annie first hit Broadway in 1977, it won a Tony award for Best Musical as well as Best Actress for Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan and has been a staple of the musical theatre canon ever since. Yet perhaps more famous than Loudon is the original young prodigy, Andrea Macardle, whose enormous belt has been emulated by hundreds of little girls since, with varying results. It is perhaps unfair to critique a cast of children who light up the stage with such energy and joy, but Charles Strouse’s score is legendarily difficult to sing for such young performers, and whilst the dancing is superb, unfortunately, this time around the score lives up to its reputation.

Elsewhere, the cast really shines; group numbers like ‘We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover’ are delivered with the style and talent of an ensemble worthy of the West End. And, as always in Annie, the villains are the real stars; Craig Revel-Horwood headlines, but Paul French and Billie Kay as Rooster and Lily are equally fantastic, and ‘Easy Street’ and its reprise are easily the highlights of the evening. Excepting perhaps French and Kay, accents and therefore diction are shaky across the board, although this is perhaps not a large issue in a show whose story has practically become a myth it is so ingrained in the popular imagination.

Is it worthy of this? It’s difficult to say. For all its flaws, Strouse’s music is beautiful and ‘Tomorrow’ brought me to tears, as it should. Yet it’s also a good reminder of the part that John Huston, director of the 1982 film, had in making this a classic, stripping the show of its endless production numbers in favour of a more rounded character. On stage, Alex Bourne’s Warbucks never gets a chance to show his prickly side; he instantly falls for Annie, meaning that we never really invest in their relationship, which is taken as read from the start. Similarly, the show’s bizarre insistence that Annie was the inspiration for Roosevelt’s New Deal feels trite and patronising, whereas on film Roosevelt’s willingness to rope her in as a political symbol is actually realistic. Glitz and easy endings take precedence in this version of the story, and whilst they are executed with great aplomb – for which choreographer Nick Winston should take a large amount of credit – the result is slightly cloying, and leaves you wanting more.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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