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
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
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
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
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
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
Mon, October 11 - Sat, Oct 16, 2004
Evenings: 7.30pm / Matinees: Thurs & Sat: 2.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 060 6646