Review: Annie at the Regent Theatre

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The world’s most famous orphan is back on tour as Annie the Musical hits the stage of the Regent Theatre in Hanley. And this rip-roaring, show-stopping magical musical wowed the packed audience on its opening night.

For those very few people who have no idea of the storyline, Annie tells the tale of Annie the orphan. Desperately seeking her parents, she is selected to spend the Christmas holidays at the home of billionaire Daddy Warbucks. Warbucks’ lifestyle is worlds away from that of the 1930’s orphanage run by the alcoholic child-phobic Mrs Hannigan but the flame-haired orphan soon charms the self-made businessman into wishing to adopt her. But first, Annie has to escape the clutches of the orphanage owner and her disreputable family.

Based on the book by Thomas Meehan with lyrics and music by Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse this production – under Director Nikolai Foster – sweeps the audience through the highs and lows of Annie’s life and does a reasonable job in contrasting the differences between life for the rich and poor of Depression-era America.

Annie is blessed with a memorable score and a host of toe-tapping tunes – the most easily recognisable being “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” – but for all of this to be fully conveyed to the audience it needs all parts of the production to gel together. And they most certainly do.

From the opening scene when introduced to the vivacious orphans and a heart-wrenching Molly (played beautifully by Zara Bench in her first professional role) the audience is drawn into the story by excellent performances from the whole cast.

Lesley Joseph (Dorien Green of Birds of a Feather fame) puts all of her comedic talent to the role of Mrs Hannigan and displays her all-round abilities in singing and energetic dance. She is ably supported in her nefarious activities by Richard Meek as Rooster and Jenny Gayner (Lily). Alex Bourne reprises his West End role as Daddy Warbucks in imperious fashion. Bourne has a very pleasant singing voice and is very believable as a hard-hearted businessman who is softened by young Annie while Carolyn Maitland plays a very sympathetic part as Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell.

The leads are very well supported by a talented cast who play their multiple parts with aplomb and an ensemble of talented singers and dancers.

Of course, the whole production revolves around the performance of the title character. The potential theatre-goer need have no fears on that score. Ava Smith is making her professional debut and, on this evidence, she has a bright future ahead of her. With a strong voice and excellent timing, she charms her way into the audience’s hearts as much as that of Daddy Warbucks as a girl that anyone would love to adopt.

Sumptuous choreography by Nick Winston makes the stage a swirling delight – I particularly enjoyed Hooverville and Busby Berkeley tribute N.Y.C. – allied to Colin Richmond’s beautiful set and costume designs and an orchestra directed by Andrew Griffin make this experience a pleasure to be part of and the time simply whizzes by.

This production is a delight and one you really must see. Just be prepared to have your heart-strings well and truly tugged.

The performance lasts for approximately two hours and twenty minutes including interval and the show continues until November 23rd. For ticket availability contact atgtickets.com/stoke