STRICTLY COME DANCING JUDGE
Annie - Birmingham Post Richard Edmonds15th Oct 2015
As Miss Hannigan might say - let's cut to the chase. This new production of Annie is a triumph.
The company is bright and handsome, the sets and costumes are the same and there is not a single dud performance in a production that is both complex and fascinating.
The story of Annie the American orphan child who finds happiness at last with the billionaire Oliver Warbucks is too well known enough by now for me to give an extended precis, suffice it to say that nothing has been changed as far as the story-line is concerned, the musical score is untouched and given a rousing treatment under the baton of George Dyer and the choreography is fresh and exciting with some of the most exhilarating dance numbers in a musical (choreography by Nick Winston) I have seen at the Hippo in years.
There are several Annies within the company ranks, but I saw Sophia Pettit, a skillful little performer who, along with her orphaned mates gave the show a rousing send-off with "It's a Hard Knock Life", a superb number with heart-jerking poignancy, which has its equivalent only in Lionel Bart's "Food Glorious Food" (from "Oliver.").
I was slightly puzzled by Colin Richmond's permanent set displaying pieces of a jigsaw in acid greens and yellows, but a programme note tells us that Annie's world is like a jumbled up jigsaw puzzle, so that's alright Mr. Richmond, now we know where we are. Richmond's costumes are less confusing. Here you get a succession of early 1930s fashion statements, some of which could well have derived their style and "look" from Chanel or Jean Patou - even Cecil Beaton in his heyday could not have done better. The costumes more than balance out odd elements in the set design.
But a musical requires extra-heightened performances to bring it off successfully. A central figure here is Oliver Warbucks, Annie's billionaire patron, who rescues her from the dilapidated orphanage, and morphs eventually into her adoptive papa. Alex Bourne in the role is superb, giving us a philanthropist in a beautifully-tailored dark blue suit, who is truly warm-hearted, compassionate, and a man with a heart which can be hurt. This is a performance filled with both humour excellent singing and pathos, which lifts the show to the heights and so deserves all our praise.
Again Jonny Fines as the persuasively cunning little con-man masquerading with his partner Lily as Annie's parents is amazing. Mr Fines has an eerie capability to bring in a whiff of Bowery low-life and his manic energy in the dance numbers is remarkable. And we cannot ignore Holly Dale Spencer who is perfect as Warbucks' glamorous secretary, and Lewis Bradley who dances superbly and plays Bert Healy the radio compere.
And last but by no means least, we have Craig Revel Horwood of Strictly Come Dancing fame, enjoying himself in drag as Miss Hannigan the hard-drinking, malignant, slightly batty, thwarted, ageing hag who runs the orphanage like a slave ship. Mr Horwood in a ginger wig and black mascara could have given us a caricature. He did not, he gave us a totally believable raunchy old swinger and sang and danced up a storm, and finally drew our sympathy. Ten out of ten darling, you were amazing.