STRICTLY COME DANCING JUDGE
Annie - Paul Larkin15th Jul 2015
My teenage daughter is an Annie aficionado. She has watched the three movies, new, old and original, countless times on repeat; seen the stage show in various guises; bought the soundtrack; learnt the lyrics; and I’m sure we have the T-shirt somewhere in the house.
Who better, then, to accompany me to the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, to watch the latest production of the ever-popular musical, on the first leg of its UK tour?
You all know the story, there’s surely no need to remind you that it is set in a tough girls’ orphanage in New York in 1933 and follows the rags-to-riches journey of 11-year-old waif Annie, one which takes her to the top of American society where she even influences President Franklin D Roosevelt with her sugar-sweet, positive outlook on life.
Just as familiar are the songs – Hard Knock Life, Easy Street, You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile and, of course, Tomorrow.
The headline act on the tour is Strictly Come Dancing stalwart Craig Revel Horwood, who proved he is more than just a tough-talking judge as he donned a frock for the part of the indomitable Miss Hannigan, the orphanage matriarch. He can act (although I expected a bit more snarling nastiness from him), he can sing and he can certainly dance. His poise, rhythm and movement, even in high heels and with large, false boobs, was worth 10 out of 10 in my book – he’s a beautiful mover!
He was supported by a very strong cast who have been drilled to perfection. Alex Bourne, as billionaire Daddy Warbucks, was suitably authoritarian when he needed to be, yet soft-centred as the plot unfolded.
Holly Dale Spencer was superb as Warbucks’ faithful secretary, who plucks Annie from the orphanage to live in his luxurious mansion.
And my favourite character was Rooster, played with convincing aplomb and comic slyness by Jonny Fines. Along with cohort Lily (also a performance worthy of note, by Djalenga Scott), they pose as Annie’s real parents in an attempt to bag a $50,000 reward.
But the absolute star of the show was Annie herself, Sophia Pettit, who showed she is insanely talented. Her voice was pitch-perfect, powerful and punchy and she performed some difficult ballads with an effortless grace that belied her tender years; she made acting and dancing look easy. One minute she would be collapsed in a crumpled heap of emotion, the next belting out a refrain from Maybe or Tomorrow.
Every little girl in the auditorium (and there were many of them!) would have left dreaming of being Sophia on that stage. She is one of three Annies in one of three teams of orphans and if the Roxy and Astoria line-ups are as good as Team Waldorf, then audiences are in for a fantastic time throughout the tour’s run. But for now, stand up and take a bow Liani Samuel (Pepper), Daisy Parry (Kate), Tegan Williams (July), Natasha Raphael (Duffy), Chloe Bowes (Tessie) and the littlest and cutest, Jessica Cartledge (Molly) – Team Waldorf!
The dance routines throughout by the entire cast were alone worth the ticket price to watch, although you wouldn’t expect anything less with Mr Revel Horwood breathing down their necks. I particularly enjoyed the tap sequence at the end of the number NYC – tap seems to be a fading art in musicals these days.
To cap it all, the vocals and music were tight and as uplifting as the show itself, and it was all played out in a magnificent set.
No self-respecting Annie reviewer can finish without mention of the pooch – in this case, Amber did the role of Sandy proud and would have won any waggiest tail competition.
Cheesy though it is, if you’re stuck in a day that’s grey and lonely, this show will definitely clear away the cobwebs and the sorrow, ’til there’s none.
And did my expert companion enjoy it? You bet your bottom dollar she did.
We both joined in the deserved standing ovation at the end. This show was entertainment through and through.