Annie, the classic musical about the gritty but determinedly cheerful orphan who charmed America out of the Great Depression was first performed in America in 1976. It transferred to Broadway the following year and ran for six years. The film came after the stage show; it made some plot tweaks and added some songs, some of which have now been appropriated by the stage show. This 2019 production comes hotfoot from the West End of London, most recently via Aberdeen. But though the story may be old and we’re no longer sunk in a recession, there’s uncertainty enough afoot in current climes for the hope of a brighter future to strike more than a chord.
This revival pays proper respect to Thomas Meehan‘s original script, though some of the jokes feel eerily pertinent. And whilst Annie is still unquestionably the hero of the day, this is a joyously boisterous ensemble production. Ava Smith‘s Annie is suitably waif-like but portrayed with steely determination and a stoical optimism that possibly would drag a country along in its wake. Her singing voice sounds older than her years and taut control from Musical Director Daniel Griffin keeps her from straying into the mawkish sentimentality of the wistful Maybe and iconic Tomorrow.
Still, the ensemble are the true delight. You’d be forgiven for thinking this can’t be their opening night at the Playhouse as they occupy the space with panache. With more scene changes than bottles of gin in Miss Hannigan’s fridge, the set is trundled on and off stage like clockwork. The lighting bestows all the razzmatazz these orphans could need. And the cast skip from being down and outs to deferential serving staff, to NYC residents, to even being radio show guests with accomplished aplomb. Bert Healy (Suzannah Van Den Berg) is a particular treat; though I daresay that Amber – reprising her role as Sandy, Annie’s saved-from-the-pound dishevelled dog – accounted for most post-show chat on the audience’s way home.
For those who grew up with Annie, the film is akin to a cup of hot chocolate on a cold, grey day: a reminder that there are nice things – and nice people – lurking in amongst the gloom. This revival added cream, marshmallows and a flake. This Annie has a big cast, bursting with energy, a brilliant band and bouncy, buoyant choreography. I think you’re gonna like it here.