Breathtaking Annie is, quite simply, spectacular!

Review by Paul Nelson

Indestructible Annie at Wimbledon Theatre once again had the audience lapping up every joyous joke and tearful moment as the story of Little Orphan Annie, originally an American strip cartoon, ripped the place apart.

It is easy to see with hindsight why this show was such a smash hit with New York audiences. It is unabashedly sentimental, the crooks are defeated, Good triumphs in the end, Love and Magic in the form of the successful Cinderella story is the order of the day and there is The Dog.

Never have so many loving sacrifices and selfless acts been brought together in one show. The numbers are all memorable and there is no need to name them here. Suffice it to say they are excellently put across the footlights.

The evening is presented by Songtime Theatre Arts, a company with a number of theatre training establishments for people who want to go into musicals and as everyone who joins the outfit is promised the chance to appear on a professional stage whenever there in a production, the cast is enormous, reminiscent perhaps of those 1920s extravaganzas that could never be staged nowadays. Or maybe even Ralph Reader's Gang Shows.

Whichever angle you take the stage is swamped with a massive cast, all drilled in the fashion of Busby Berkley, and the sheer numbers of this troupe takes your breath away.

There are two casts because of our ridiculous and outdated laws regarding child performers on stage, which in a way must seem a blessing to the principal of the theatre school. He gets to fulfil his promise. Each cast boasts one hundred and six performers. There were times I thought the stage would give way under the weight.

Older pupils and past graduates form the backbone of the cast as far as the grown-ups are concerned, but especially with this musical, all others can be incorporated as servants in the vast house of billionaire Oliver Warbucks as well as inhabitants of the New York Municipal Orphanage (Girls' Annexe).

The result is spectacular.

Shining out from this throng, first and foremost, is Lizzie France as Miss Hannigan the tyrant of the orphanage. Against the horde of orphans she manages to hold her own space on the stage and the result is screamingly funny. As she sings of how she hates little girls, the tiniest ones march through her legs, the others showing what defiance they dare. It is a superbly comic performance.

In the comparatively dull part of Grace, Oliver Warbucks' amanuensis, Joanna Kirkland from the many times I have seen this show, gives the definitive reading.

Rooster, Lily St Regis, Oliver Warbucks and FDR are all played with surety, and Sandy the Dog naturally is an audience winner.
Never play with animals or children? You can't get away with that in this show.

In spite of the dog and all the formidable opposition the Annie of this team, Rebecca Leaves, a little belter with the charm and guile of a siren, not only holds her own on the stage but owns the stage.

You will gather I liked this production, almost against my will when I discovered the cast were mostly theatre students, but director Matthew Chandler with massive ingenuity, created something that could never have been afforded by a professional company.

Annie, a musical. Book by Thomas Meehan, Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin. Directed by Matthew Chandler; Associate Directors Sarah Ingram, Julia Ann Dixon, Lizzie France; Musical Director Nic Le Breuilly; Scenic Design Stagesets of London; Costume Design Marion Northway; Lighting Design David Buffham & Andy Vere; Sound Design Richard Elliot. WITH Rebecca Leaves (Annie), Lizzie France (Miss Hannigan), James Ffinch Mitchell (Bundles), Claire Roberts (Apple Seller), Guy Crosswell (Dog Catcher #1), Matthew Stone (Dog catcher #2), Victoria Atkin (Sophie), Jody Brock (Fred), Sophia Butt (Mary), Hannah Moulsdale (Peggy), Nicky Kill (Jane), Emma Murray (Ira), Andrew Gyford (Artie), Joanna Kirkland (Grace Farrell), Lorna Watkins (Mrs Pugh), Jonathan Raynham (Drake), Lordine Appiah (Mrs Greer), Claire Lucas (Cecille), Amy Mc Vicar (Annette), Jonathan Bullock (Oliver Warbucks), Jessica Decourcey (Star-to-Be), Mark Fallon (Rooster Hannigan), Kerry Tanner (Lily St Regis), James Ives (Bert Healey), Andrew Gyford (Fred McCracken/Louis Howe), Jake Herbert (Sound Operator), Christopher Johnson (Jimmy Johnson), Maria Pierides (Bonnie Boylan), Rosanna Wollenberg (Connie Boylan), Rebecca Scott (Lonnie Boylan), Hayley Hills (Nonnie Boylan), Rebecca Lee (Jonny Boylan), Nicola Raft (Ronnie Boylan), Patrick Molyneux (FDR/Lt. Ward), Robert Wells (Cordell Hull), Claire Roberts (Frances Perkins), Christopher Orrin (Morganthau), James Ives (Harold Ickes). Georgia Davies-Legge/ Christine Tucker/Lucy Delaiche/ Sarah Atkin/ Elizabeth Rees/Madeline Lidster/Nadia Abdulla/Jessica Walker/Ilona Reese/Katrina Maranon/Stacey Greenhead/Sian Reece/Sascha Healey/Rachel Charman/Sian Gearing/Nicole Kent (Orphans) and Finn Skeaping (Sandy the Dog).
Presented by Songtime Theatre Arts at Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon. 020 8540 0362.