Hull New Theatre
I’ve never been desperate to see the musical about a flame-haired orphan whose rags-to-riches story has captivated audiences for decades.
The most I’ve ever managed to sit through was a documentary about the making of the (first) film in 1982. And even the pull of Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks hasn’t been enough to make me watch since.
There was nothing about that story that pulled me in, but I’d had such a good time in December watching Anita Dobson at the same venue in Cinderella, that I signed up for this show months ago.
I’m glad I did, because Annie is one of those feelgood triumphs that deserves a look as it plays Hull New Theatre.
Chances are you already know the story: the eponymous orphan escapes the clutches of drunken, selfish Miss Hannigan (a scenery chewing, hilarious Ms Dobson) and goes to stay with self centred billionaire Warbucks (Alex Bourne on top form). Imagine the US President, only with enough sense not to ask a kid whether she believes in Father Christmas. (Santa’s real kids, I checked).
Anyway, after two weeks in Annie’s presence, Warbucks bonds with her so much he wants to adopt the kid. She’s naturally desperate to find her parents, so he sends out experts and offers a reward to make her dream come true.
However, Miss Hannigan’s grasping brother Rooster (Richard Meek) and his partner Lily (Jenny Gayner) have hatched a plot to claim the kid for their own so they can pocket the reward.
What unfolds is far from revelatory, but it’s remarkable how much this all-American fairy tale with gags about Babe Ruth, Eliot Ness and Al Capone (which sailed over the audience’s heads) mostly works in Hull.
That well-worn song The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow may be one of theatre’s most belted out tracks, but in context, when sung in front of President Roosevelt, it’s surprisingly moving.
I can’t say the other songs, aside from the equally wonderful It’s a Hard Knock Life, left much of a mark on my memory banks, but there’s enough good stuff here to gloss over that.
Taziva-Faye Katsande is outstanding in the title role, generating giggles and tugging at heart strings in all the right places.
The rest of the kids, Orlagh McDonagh, Kacey Agwuegbo, Siena Austen, Drew Phoebe Hilton, Lyla Toplass and Fifi Bloomsbury-Khier, all do a terrific job with the numbers and choreography, while Amber the labradoodle steals every scene she’s in as Sandy.
Director Nikolai Foster ensures there’s rarely a dull minute, and the set and costumes by Colin Richmond are excellent. Okay, Warbucks’ wobbly Art Deco doorway could have done with more stability, but that’s the problem with top heavy props that need to be light enough to drop from the rafters during scene changes. It’s a necessary compromise, but still looks fabulous.
The original Broadway production opened in 1977, though it feels like the show has been around a lot longer, probably because of the period setting and those songs which have been dropped into adverts and morphed into more radical interpretations (the less said about Jay-Z’s version of Hard Knock Life the better).
Contrary to what the other key song promised me, the sun didn’t come out ’tomorrow’. It’s chucking it down today, but Annie is a real day of sunshine to eclipse those April showers, and as engaging as any West End performance.
If you’re a newcomer to the show and Hull New Theatre, to paraphrase one of the best tunes, I think you’re going to like it there.