BrumHour saw Annie at the invitation of Birmingham Hippodrome.
By Eleanor Lawson twitter.com/elle_lawson
Annie at Birmingham Hippodrome
Directed by Nikolai Foster, Book by Thomas Meehan, Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin.
Summer’s here, children have broken up from school, and we’re in the midst of a stifling heat wave. Clearly lots of people have had the same idea of how to spend the hot summer nights because Birmingham Hippodrome was packed for the opening night of Annie. By the chorus of people singing Tomorrow as they left the theatre, the show’s joy is infectious.
In Great Depression-era New York City, eleven-year old Annie lives in an orphanage under the tyrannical watch of Miss Hannigan. She was left on the doorstep with one half of a locket and a note promising her parents would come back for her, and after eleven years, Annie decides it’s time to take fate into her own hands. When she’s chosen to spend Christmas with the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, she’s given everything that money can offer, but she’s still looking for her parents, and Miss Hannigan isn’t quite done with her yet …
It’s always nerve-wracking for an actor to open a show, so it’s even more impressive that a cast of such young actors can do it so fearlessly. From the opening breath of the show, they are explosive, and they carry that energy all the way to show’s end. The young cast rotates between three different teams, Chrysler, Empire State, and Rockefeller, and Team Rockefeller stormed the show on press night.
Headlining the child cast was Freya Yates as Annie, who will alternate with Taziva-Faye Katsande and Ava Smith. The whole musical depends on the audience falling in love with Annie, and it’s safe to say that was achieved. Freya as Annie is sweet, breaking up fights between the other children and comforting them, with a steel core as she flees the orphanage and stands up for herself. Most importantly, she’s loveable without being saccharine, and the audience doesn’t tire of her innocence and strength in the face of adversity.
Jodie Prenger is brilliant as always as the musical’s famous villain, Miss Hannigan. Having made her name by winning the part of Nancy in Oliver on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s I’d Do Anything, Jodie has an impressive back-catalogue and she’s similarly fantastic in this, menacing and lascivious whilst always being funny. Alex Bourne is also great as Daddy Warbucks, confident and cool at the start of his journey, with a heart of gold shining through as Annie’s joy radiates through his life.
I’d never seen the film so it took me by surprise that there’s an inescapable political undertone to the show. The Wall Street Crash and Great Depression is everywhere: from the throngs of homeless people in Hooverville who take Annie under their wings, right up to Roosevelt’s frenzied discussions of The White House. Don’t come expecting any serious political message, this is after all a story where a brave-hearted orphan and a billionaire inspire political change with their optimism – and it’s definitely not why people come to see Annie – but such chaos gives an urgency to the hope that Annie inspires in everyone around her.
It’s a show about finding out who you are, with Annie not only searching for her own identity but transforming the lives of everyone she comes into contact with, who re-evaluate their own lives. This is reflected beautifully in the set design formed from a mosaic of puzzle pieces that glow during scene stages: Annie is trying to piece her life together, but as it turns out, so is everyone else.
Annie is at Birmingham Hippodrome until 11th August. Book tickets here: birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/annie-2
This isn’t a sponsored post.
Eleanor Lawson produces Interval Theatre Tuesdays at 3pm on Brum Radio.