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ANNIE

19-11-2009

This modern classic runs at the Alex in Birmingham until November 21. Terry Wills enjoys.

Described as being “One of the most enchanting musicals I have ever seen” by a one of the country's foremost quality National press critics, who am I to argue? But in saying that, if I didn’t agree I wouldn’t hesitate to say so.

But no need to disagree and as Annie has gone on to triumphantly win so many prestigious awards including no less than seven Tony’s, it’s positive proof that theatregoers and critics alike are very much in agreement.

‘Annie’ created for a strip cartoon in The New York times in 1929 made the transition to the New York stage in 1976 and ran for five years, before opening at West End’s Victoria Palace where it’s leading lights, were played by Sheila Hancock and Stratford Johns.

There it enjoyed a long enjoyable run before moving on to a hugely successful National Tour. It was turned in to a film starring Albert Finney. And down the years has continued to delight family audiences with performances from both professional and amateur companies.

The story, revolves around Annie and other unwanted abandoned children living in a orphanage under the direction of Miss Hannigan who makes it perfectly clear that she much prefers downing an insatiable amount of liquor as opposed to carrying out her duties!

It’s Christmas- no festivities on the horizon- when Miss Hannigan receives a visit from the secretary of Oliver Warbucks, Grace Farrell. He’s one of the few remaining billionaires in the great American depression of the 1930’s under the Presidential guidance of Edgar J Hoover.

She explains that Warbucks has decided to offer a 14-day Christmas treat for an orphan in his luxury mansion - and chooses Annie despite vigorous protests from Miss Hannigan who admits she ‘hates’ the girl with a passion. In reality all Annie wants is to find her real parents to the extent of running away from the Orphanage clutching a last letter from her Mom and Dad that she hopes will help someone, anyone, to trace her parents.

Warbucks, despite being enchanted with the appealing red haired youngster to the extent that he offers to legally adopt her, offers a 50,000 Dollars reward to anyone who can prove they are her real parents. Naturally proof is required. But unsurprisingly none of the hundreds claiming to be her real parents can substantiate their claims apart from a certain ‘Rooster Hannigan’ the brother of the Miss Hannigan, who provides ‘proof’ that no one else but herself knows exists.

Does the devious plan succeed? No prizes or the correct answer! And at the end after the FBI, called in by Oliver Warbucks, discover the truth of the situation, it’s cheers of joy and happiness all round.

The leading roles are taken by James McAlister, Daddy Warbucks, Grace Farrell, Simone Craddock, while the pivotal role of lovable Annie was played on the opening night by the talented Lydia Tunstall backed by her fellow abandoned orphanage unwanted and unloved children.

The devious scheming portrayal’s of Rooster Hannigan ad his girl friend Lily St Regis are played by James Gavin and Sophie McEwan. President Hoover is Joe Connors but naturally the incomparable Sue Pollard as Miss Hannigan, received the expected enthusiastic applause from the delighted audience.

Oh yes before I forget Annie also features a loveable dog ‘Sandy’. Ooh's and aah's whenever he makes an appearance. Especially in the final scene when wearing a bright red dog coat to match Annie’s colourful dress the audience couldn’t restrain their enthusiasm.

The sets are bright colourful and eye catching-the range of popular songs tuneful- including among others ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’, ‘Little Girls’, ‘NYC’, ‘I Think I’m Going To Like It Here’, 'Easy Street,' ‘Your Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile’-‘Maybe’ plus the title song ‘Annie’- but without a doubt it’s ‘Tomorrow’ that sees the entire cast reprising this so well loved song that has the enthusiastic family audience joining in.

As someone who has seen Annie on numerous occasions I couldn’t help notice a few subtle changes from the original West End production - including the addition of a scene set in a Radio station where an appeal is broadcast to the nation by Bert Healey, described as being ‘Radio’s only masked ventriloquist announcer. In the process there is a VERY funny moment when in attempting to revive his collapsed puppet he proceeds to pound it’s chest as if trying to save a human life!

To sum up here is a quote by the professional critic of the prestigious New York Times after it opened on Broadway.

To dislike the new musical ‘Annie’ would be tantamount to disliking motherhood, peanut butter, friendly mongrel dogs and nostalgia”

But don’t take his or my word for it. Ignore the current awful weather (!) wrap up well and treat yourself and any children to a lovely night’s enjoyment.

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