Annie is, without doubt, one of the best loved musicals around. It's a perfect medley of brilliant songs, a stand-out sore and beautifully crafted characters that take you through the full range of emotions. Which means I was all the more shocked when I realised that the last time this show toured the UK was four years ago - it honestly feels like months!
Set in 1930s New York during the great depression, Annie is a musical story that focuses on the typical plot line of a baddie, a fairy godmother and a knight in shining armour who saves the day.
Brave young Annie (Ava Smith) is forced to live a life of misery and torment at the orphanage of Miss Hannigan (Anita Dobson, Eastenders). Determined to find her real parents, her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks (Alex Bourne, We Will Rock You). Spiteful Miss Hannigan has other ideas and hatches a plan to spoil Annie’s search but good triumphs over evil in this hit musical which has delighted audiences for almost 40 years.
Filled to the brim with iconic songs, including 'Hard Knock Life' and 'Tomorrow', it'd be very difficult to sit in the auditorium and NOT crack a smile.
Dobson leads the cast in a surprising - but very well cast - take on Miss Hannigan. Whilst her acting prowess was never in question, Miss Hannigan is a very distinct trunchbull-esque role, but one that Dobson grabs with both hands and excels at. With incredible comic timing and a brilliant dry humour, she has the audience grinning from ear to ear throughout.
There is an age old adage that says not to work with kids or animals. Unfortunately, in a show based around an 11 year old girl with a dog, that would hamper the telling of the story somewhat. Fortunately, the 5 or 6 young leads on stage this evening proved conclusively why we should be so incredibly proud of the future of British theatre. Let's be honest, theatre is something we and the East coast of the USA do the best...and something I maintain we still take the number 1 spot for.
Smith gave a world class portrayal of Annie, with a rendition that had the confidence and presence of Aileen Quinn in the original 1982 film. She was self assured, note perfect and clearly knew the role inside out - along with the rest of the 'orphans' on stage, they proved why kids are such naturals with a fearless attitude that personifies the character perfectly.
There's something about walking into a theatre - be it on the local touring circuit or a decked out west end venue - that makes it an experience like no other and you always hope that experience is capped by every performer blowing your socks off. Tonight, my expectations were not only met but exceeded with a cast who are a credit to the production and one that bring this tale to life with a flair that sets them apart from so many of their contemporaries.
This production of Annie is, without doubt, a classy, well staged and slick interpretation which is well worth going to see.
Annie plays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 23rd February. For more information, or tickets, head to grandtheatre.co.uk.