When it was announced late last year that Anita Dobson was to play Miss Hannigan in the UK and Ireland tour of Annie the casting could not have been more ideal.
The actress, better known to the kids who grew up in the 80s, as Eastenders Angie Watts (and of course in real life married to Queen legend Brian May) could act her socks off in the role of the gin swigging child hating orphanage owner.
Maybe it was because I had these high expectations that her performance felt a little panto rather than pizazz when she finally took to the Opera House stage for the 2 week run here in Manchester.
Don’t get me wrong, Dobson was still a delight to see but there were just moments that I felt she over egged her take on Hannigan, at some points screaming and shrieking her way through her lines and solo numbers.
Annie is definitely the musical where the smaller ones in the cast get the chance to shine and there’s no denying they steal the show here. Led by the extremely talented Taziva-Faye Katsande (one of the 3 girls rotating the red-headed lead role) the mini members of Team Chrysler who were performing on press night, lit up the stage with their energy and sass.
Whilst you don’t meet ‘Daddy Warbucks’ until half way through Act One, Alex Bourne who plays the New York Billionaire, made it well worth the wait. Bourne, who has previously starred in the role both in Toronto and the West End, created the perfect mix of the workaholic man who is used to getting everything he wants to becoming a soft-hearted soul charmed by orphan Annie.
Carolyn Maitland as Warbucks’ PA Grace also delights with her warmth and stunning vocals which she gets to show off in ‘I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here’ and ‘N.Y.C’.
A special mention must go to ensemble member George Rae who plays the dual roles of Bert Healy and Ickes. It goes to show that however big or small your part you can always make an impact and he certainly does in this production.
Rae’s performance as one of the White House team is possibly the funniest and stand out moments of the night and his vocals transported you back to the 1930s with their richness and crystal clear crooning.
There’s no denying Colin Richmond’s set and costumes are fabulous to witness, capturing the era perfectly; from outfits that echo the famous yellow cabs of the Big Apple to the iconic red dress and coat of Annie.
Ben Cracknell’s lighting compliments Richmond’s work, illuminating the proscenium arch at certain points in the show to highlight the array of jigsaw pieces that surround it (a clever and subtle reference to the puzzle Annie is trying to solve in her search for her parents).
Annie is one of the best loved musicals of all time and one that most of us all grew up watching, whether on stage or in the movie versions of both 1982 and 2014.
Whilst it runs in our city it’s sure to have us all humming the classic songs from the show ‘Hard Knock Life’ and ‘Tomorrow’. Old or young, you will leave the theatre feeling a tad nostalgic and with the super positive message that we should all adhere to ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile’!
Runs at the Opera House, Manchester until Feb 16th