REVIEW: Annie Jnr, Arts Theatre ✭✭✭

Annie Jnr at the Arts Theatre

Arts Theatre
3rd August 2015
3 Stars

Leapin’ lizards – despite being a big fan of musicals and the Annie film I’ve never actually seen it on the stage. P2P Productions didn’t disappoint with their Arts Theatre play, capturing all the fun and the silliness of the tale, supported by a very talented young cast.

In the depths of the 1930’s, a fiery young orphan girl, Annie is condemned to living in a miserable orphanage. Her seemingly hopeless situation changes dramatically when she is selected to spend a short time at the homes of the wealthy Oliver Warbucks. However, the evil head of the orphanage Miss Hannigan, together with some accomplices put together a fiendish plan to scupper it all

This was a highly abridged version, coming in at just over an hour, although most of the songs are retained. It was testament to the fun and energy of the production that I am sure the audience would not have begrudged them going on for much longer. Whilst this stripped down version still flowed and made sense, it did feel fairly sped through, although what was actually on display was always first-rate.

This youth production was clearly a massive enterprise; the cast list is gigantic, spanning nearly five pages of A4 in the programme. On the night I attended, Gracie Weldon played the main role and put in a show-stopping performance. Her high notes were pitch perfect and she didn’t disappoint during two of her most well-known numbers, Tomorrow and Maybe. The orphans were highly likeable and entertaining as a group, with Faith Chandler putting in an enjoyable performance as the worrisome Tessie.

The ‘adult’ parts were played by older teens and there were strong performances across the board. Jessica Niles was an enjoyably eccentric Miss Hannigan and although he is not a natural singer, Ashley Blake’s Oliver Warbucks acted the part of the kind and generous Oliver Warbucks with nuance and sophistication. Billy Nevers was full of mischief as ‘Rooster’ Hannigan, forming an excellent double act with Hannah Foster’s Lilly St. Regis. The New York accents, never easy to master, rarely slipped and the blocking and movement was slick – not easy with a big cast on a small stage.

Annie’s set was constrained a bit through sharing stage space with Green Day’s musical American Idiot (a fantastic dilemma for a youth production!). However, it was perfectly functional and supported by some entertaining props, including a very cute dog operated by an on-stage puppeteer. The choreography from Maria Lopiano was lively and well performed and the supporting orchestra showed their class during a toe-tapping overture.

However, if I had to be critical, one nagging issue was the sound quality – the balance between the orchestra and the singers was never quite right, meaning lyrics often got lost. There were also a few ongoing issues with microphones although I’m sure these will iron themselves out over the course of the run.

It must be every stage school kid’s dream to perform in the West End and the cast of Annie has certainly not passed up the opportunity. It’s an infectiously enthusiastic feel-good production that does justice to Charles Strouse’s brilliant score.

Annie Jnr runs at the Arts Theatre until 31st August 2015.

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