14
Apr
12

ANNIE

Annie

Gordon Frost Organisation

QPAC Lyric Theatre

14th April – 13th May

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

Sugar and Spice and all things nice. That’s what little girls are made of, right?

From the excited young voices being shushed by their mothers to the bobbing heads as far back as the eye can see, it seems most definitely so. That’s right folks, ‘Annie’ is back and “Aw Gee-ing” her way across the Lyric Theatre stage and right back into our plucky little hearts.

At the premiere of  the musical’s Brisbane season, the curtain rises to a scene reminiscent of the grit and grandeur so candidly etched into our memories from the 1982 hit movie. The set design (Kenneth Foy), captures expertly the squalor of the Municipal Girls Orphanage, which is later contrasted starkly with the opulence of Warbuck’s mansion. The visuals of this show are crafted beautifully, and set up the audience for a visual treat.

Directed by Karen Johnson Mortimer, the production relishes in recapturing the essence of a time gone by. All our old favourites are there, and are delivered just the way we remember them. And while even I was quite happily toe-tapping my way through the familiar numbers, a nagging little voice inside kept whispering that while fun, familiar and comfortable, there was a sense that theatrically, something was amiss.

Having grown up watching the 1982 film adaptation of Annie with blatant devotion, admittedly I have strong images and expectations wedged firmly in my heart as to what I should feel seeing these characters live before me onstage, expecting the subtleties of each scene and each character to once again charm their way into my heart and knock me flat. Obviously this is an ambitious expectation given the limitations of a proscenium stage show. However, despite some outstanding contributions from the cast, I do feel this seasons Annie fails to consistently reach beyond the great musical score and script and expose the humanity of the story in a way that excites me as much as my childhood memories of the show do. But it does have its redeeming moments, particularly in the talents of its cast.

Sharing the title role of little Orphan Annie are newcomers Xanthe Dunning, Anita Munro and Chloe Thiel, with Thiel playing the role of Annie at the Brisbane premiere on Thursday night. With a strong, commanding voice that has a natural freedom and youthful charm, Theil’s portrayal of the spirited young Annie is measured, professional and mature in its approach. I would have liked to see a little more emotional connection to the text come through in her performance, as giving us a sneak peek at the vulnerabilities and emotional growth of Annie’s character could have made a very good performance into a great one. It will be exciting to watch the progress of this talented young performer as she grows throughout this production.

A strong cast of misfit orphans support Thiel. Although at times their varying levels of stage experience shows, their combined musicality and enthusiasm for their individual roles was infectious. It’s the Hard Knock Life was a highlight of the show, and allowed each girl a moment to shine. Worth special mention was youngest orphan, Molly (Kennedy Foley), who stole the hearts of the audience with her comic delivery and infectious stage presence.

Quietly commanding is the talent of Anthony Warlow in the role of Oliver Warbucks. Bringing a sense of warmth and vulnerability to the role of the authoritative Warbucks, Warlow’s voice and artistry shines in the role, and gives the air of a generous performer.

Julie Goodwin plays opposite Warlow, as an entrancing and practically perfect Grace. She too brings warmth and quiet elegance to her role, embodying the youthfulness of the efficient, kind hearted Grace through an intuitive and experienced approach. Goodwin’s vocal delivery is a major strength of her performance, embodying a beautiful sense of musicality and composure that is highly compatible with her character.

Likewise, Nancy Hayes in the role of Miss Hannigan gives an outstanding and dedicated performance. Courageously, she does not mimic the noted archetype known to many from the 1982 film, but rather, gives Hannigan a disordered drunken charm that audiences love-to-hate. Theatrically she is a joy to watch, however I felt more could have been made of her solo moment Little Girls, which seemed to only skim the surface of Hayes innate comic timing and theatricality.

Todd McKenney as the swindling Rooster and Chloe Dallimore as his leggy limpet ‘Lily St Regis’, make an impressive entrance in Easy Street. They have a sizzling presence onstage that commands your attention, albeit sometimes to the detriment of the other performers in the centre of the action, however, I enjoyed their energy and found them an engaging duo.

Alan Jones in the role of F.D.R is an interesting choice. Vocally he holds his own but although enthusiastic and well directed, areas of the characterisation are in need of refinement. The slipping in and out of accent was noticeably an issue and distracted from what was effectively a well-mannered performance.

The ensemble of Annie was a highlight of this production. With a collective energy that kept the energy of each scene flowing seamlessly, they are to be commended for their contribution to this show. Each is clearly an accomplished performer in their own right and together form a strong ensemble that is musically and theatrically dynamic. Likewise the musical direction of the show (Peter Casey) was a true asset, and gave justice to this well loved score. My congratulations to the instrumentalists who created a sensitive and spirited accompaniment to this show.

I have to say that while I found the direction of this production a little stagnant, it is not without it’s musical and theatrical charms. The show closed to rapturous applause and it is clear that Annie’s optimistic and feel-good message is one that resonates with audiences young and old. Sometimes it’s just nice to go and see a nice musical; after all is said and sung, I found it quite a nice end to a ‘Hard Knock’ week.

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