Updated: Jul 30
Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin
Annie Tour (UK) Ltd
Venue Cymru, Llandudno
May 15-20, 2023;
(also at Liverpool Empire, Jun 5-10; Bradford Alhambra, July 5-10; Blackpool Opera House, September 6-9; Sheffield Lyceum, October 17-21; Hull New Theatre, October 23-28)
Is it the cynic in me that has purposefully stayed away from this story? Perhaps it's the overblown and overdone Karaoke versions of the stand-out song, Tomorrow, that has stuck in my throat. But there is much more to Annie than a plucky girl making good through her perpetual optimism.
Annie the musical deliberately shadows stories like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, except with a girl as the focus of the story. She, an orphan, endures a harsh regime in a group home but is irrepressible in her attempts to escape and find her parents. As a token of Christmas spirit she is invited to spend the holiday season with a rich benefactor, Daddy Warbucks - whose name exactly marks his professional card, except he's otherwise a nice guy - who seeks to adopt her once they are sure her natural parents can't be found. The potential spanner in the works is provided by con-man Dan the Dip and his partner, who attempt to fool everyone into thinking they are Annie's actual parents and thus entitled to the $50,000 reward offered by a beneficent Warbucks.
This production is excellent. The scene changes are smooth and effective, even by the high standards we see in touring productions from the West End. The choreography is imaginative and lively, too, with lots of energy. But the stand out feature, as always with this show, is the cute kids.
There are no shrinking violets here, just untrammelled enthusiasm channeled through years of youthful dance and performing lessons. As with everything, practice and enthusiasm count for a lot.
Annie, played by Zoe Akinyosade at last night's performance, is the epitome of precociousness and avoids mawkishness. Her rendition of Tomorrow is great, as are several of the other perhaps too-often-heard songs, NYC in particular.
Among the adults, Jodie Prenger as the unpleasant orphanage warden, Miss Hannigan, and Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks, are both excellent.
Set in the aftermath to the Great Depression and written after the Oil Crisis and end of the Vietnam conflict in the 1970s, the musical is deliberately optimistic, promising better times to come.
Perhaps the happy-ever-after ending is too neat - the character is based on a comic strip, after all. There are plenty of references to lifestyles ruined by the Depression, so to see not only Annie but all of her orphan friends adopted by rich families by the end is stretching the limits of reality. Luckily with this show, people don't seem to mind...
Like the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930s, this is a lovely bit of escapism that has a handy motto to take away with you: there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
Given some of the depressing headlines we have faced in recent years, it seems apt that we see a national tour of Annie at this time.