All I knew of Annie was that she’s ginger and good enough to be sampled by Jay-Z. Left to rot in a shabby orphanage, she certainly does start out having a Hard-Knock life. Of course, this was before the welfare system had stuff like laws and youth development officers and ASBOs and that.
It’s won or been nominated for a tonne of Tony and Olivier awards. And if the Orange British Academy Awards had dolled out accolades on the basis of orangeness, I bet flame-haired Annie would have won that too. Cue a comedy alcoholic pantomime baddie and a rich tycoon looking for an orphan to take home for Christmas (which apparently was ok, pre-Glitter) and you’ve got yourself a show.
Su Pollard of ‘Hi-de-Hi’ ‘fame’ couldn’t be better as the bitter spinster who runs the orphanage. Although what happened to the ‘e’ on the end of her name? Maybe she donated it to Trafford’s Chill Factore (Chill Factor? Chill Factory? What’s it called?!). And the young actress playing Annie was great. Her delivery of so many lines and lyrics was amazing. When I was 11, I still believed in the tooth fairy. I would have said Santa but my nanna shattered the illusion when I was 5 by “assuming I knew” – although at least I had a grandmother. Now back to orphan Annie…
Running through the story is her desire to find her parents. Her foster father even offers a $50k reward and ropes in the president as part of the search – complete with a catchy musical number of its own. ‘Genes Reunited’ obviously didn’t rhyme with much.
In fact, the songs are great and they get their money’s worth out of ‘Tomorrow’, the show’s signature tune. However, the production wasn’t quite as highly polished as it could have been. If I was an optimist I’d say the slightly rough-round-the-edges feel was a comment on Annie’s own unconventional beauty. But with the exception of interval drinks, I’m a glass half empty kinda girl.
That said, the scene changes were amazing and you’ve got to hand it to the director for working with both children and animals. A brat of kids (is that the term?) comprised the fun opening chorus and an adorable dog made a few appearances. Lolloping round the stage on valium-laced Pedigree Chum, he was so laid back I thought he might shamelessly defecate on stage dressed in his cute Santa outfit.
Alcoholism, homelessness, depression, abuse – the themes covered were pretty bleak. But it was the most upbeat portrayal of a broken society I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see Eastenders take that on board. Seeping despair from its every pore, the episode finale would show Pat Butcher’s life slowly ebb away as the flames licked round a sepia photo of Frank… then swap its end credits for a chorus line of shiny kids doing jazz hands. Ta-da!
If you’ve got kids, I’d highly recommend it. If not, then I’d borrow one so as not to run the risk of looking a bit shifty amongst all the young ‘uns in the audience. In fact, I’ve never been to a performance with such a wide range of ages. Because all in all, it’s an upbeat night of fun. Finishing on Saturday, you’d better get in quick to catch it – apparently tomorrow’s only a day away (sorry).
Palace Theatre Manchester
8th – 12th November 2011