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Saccharine-heavy Annie lacks the feel-good factor!

Review by David Munro

ANNIE is the original 'feelgood' musical. Little orphans sing and dance cheerfully ignoring their adversities, servants are happily subservient, skinflint millionaires have changes of heart, good conquers evil and everything ends happily in a rousing chorus as the curtain descends.

The plot concerns a little orphan girl, Annie, who is taken under the wing of a millionaire as a Christmas treat and succeeds in charming him into adopting her.

She also charms the President of the United States, Mr Roosevelt, into formulating the New Deal; a policy aimed at restoring financial stability to the country after the Thirties depression. Miss Hannigan, the warden of the orphanage, tries to defeat the adoption and is thwarted by the intervention of the FBI.

That is all very well, but it is fantasy time and for fantasy to be acceptable it has to be done with taste and finesse - two ingredients the touring production now at Wimbledon lacks.

This production is set firmly in the period of the show itself with 1930s cut-out sets that nowadays should only be used for pantomimes, dancing of the two steps and a twirl-type that may have been de-rigueur when Jessie Mathews was queen of the stage, but seem very old hat in the age of Bob Fosse and Susan Stroman. And performances which bear no relation to reality.

The star, if such is an apt description, is Su Pollard, as Miss Hannigan.

Miss Pollard a comedienne whose performances I have long enjoyed and admired. However, in this part, she throws discretion out of the window and gives a not very good impersonation of Lily Savage, every line delivered in a loud, screeching voice, exaggerated gestures and no sense of timing whatsoever.

But perhaps this is what her fans now demand, as she certainly had a rousing reception at the end of the evening and the audience seemed very happy with what she gave them.

The rest of the cast went through the motions the script required with American accents which, at times, made it very hard to hear what they said.

Annie, the night I saw it, was played by Emma Hopkins, whose ability or otherwise to sing was distorted by the amplification. She gave the impression that had she been given the opportunity, she could act and dance, but this was denied her.

As Oliver Warbucks, the millionaire who discovers a heart, James Smillie sung well and had the right air of benevolence, which disguised successfully the implausibility of his character.

As his Secretary, Miss Farell, Louise English was hampered by an inability to dance, which made her efforts in the concerted numbers rather inadequate, but perhaps that was the fault of the choreographer, David Kert, rather than her. Otherwise, she gave her cardboard character the charm it required.

Miss Hannigan’s co-conspirators in the plot against Annie were sung and danced by Melody James and Mathew Hewitt, who gave the unbelievably awful impersonation of Annie’s false parents called for by the script amusingly well.

The children playing the orphans had the requisite cuteness and charm and sung and danced well enough to merit the applause they received at the end of the show.

I can sympathise with the director that, faced with a book of such a saccharine nature and hampered by trite and at times inappropriate lyrics, it is very difficult to produce a convincing piece of theatre.

But the impression that I got from this production was that he had just given up and pulled every clichéd trick out of the bag to get through the evening.

Certainly, he appeared to have allowed Su Pollard to go her own way, so the touch of acid that the part of Miss Hannigan should bring to the plot to counteract its sickly premise, was missing.

If you want an undemanding and not very good evening in the theatre, this is it.

Alternatively, you could buy the CD and listen to Charles Strouse’s delightful score, which is the best part of the show. I suggest the latter course of action would be the most enjoyable.

Annie Book, by Thomas Meehan, based on the cartoon strip, Little Orphan Annie. Music by Charles Strouse; Lyrics by Martin Charnin.
Director, Chris Colby; Choreographer, David Kert; Settings, Alan Miller Bunford; Costumes, Amy McNamara; Lighting, Graham Mclusky; Sound, Thames Audio; Music Director, Tim Davies.
CAST: Su Pollard; James Smillie; Louise English; Philip Burrows; Victoria Catell; James Gavin; Mathew Hewitt; Emma Hopkins; Stacey Hunt; Barbara Jaeson; Melody Jones; Mathew Kent; Graham King; Elysia Lawrence; Christopher Marlowe; Michael Morgan; James O’Connell; Georgina Snell; Daniel Woodhouse; Vikki Marie Ryan; Sophie Futte; Lacey Creed; Eliza Farrington; Saasi Strollen; Helena de Bono; Florence Russell; Melanie Barker;
Kacey Caming; Christine Phillips.
Producer, Chris Moreno.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway , Wimbledon , London, SW19 1QG.
Mon, October 11 - Sat, Oct 16, 2004
Evenings: 7.30pm / Matinees: Thurs & Sat: 2.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 060 6646

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