Theatre / Review

Review: Annie at Piccadilly Theatre, London

Comedian and actress Miranda Hart makes her West End debut in everyone’s favourite family musical.

Annie is a classic piece of musical theatre – and it’s good to have it back! The original Broadway production started in 1977 and set a record for the longest-running show at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) that was not surpassed until 2009 by Hairspray. In this production – the third time Annie has made it to the West End since its debut in 1978 – the focus seems to be on the star-casting of Miranda Hart as Miss Hannigan, the owner of the orphanage where Annie is placed.

This is fine – Hart is on great form – but it’s worth noting that she isn’t the only good thing happening in this production.

Hart works best when she’s mostly being herself. Fans of her award-winning BBC sitcom will recognise their “Queen Kong” here: Miss Hannigan flopping to the floor to throw back a glut of gin, wailing in frustration at her sheer bad luck, thrusting an unsuspecting chap’s head against her ample bosom in hope of flirtatious affection… it’s all there, it’s all Miranda.

Of course, the issue here is that Hart’s on-screen persona is full of warmth and charm, and the same has to be said about her on stage presence, too. Contrasting to this, Hannigan has no warmth; in fact she’s cruel, mean and is given no chance of redemption in the narrative. Because of this, a challenge is presented, and the production ends up painting Hannigan more as a figure of fun rather than the out-and-out tyrant you might expect.

Aside from the star name, Annie boasts a buoyant cast. There’s charming support for Hart from both Jonny Fines as Rooster and Djalenga Scott as Lily St. Regis – the reprise of Easy Street is a real highlight – while Holly Dale Spencer and Alex Bourne, as Grace and Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks respectively, are cheerily good as Little Orphan Annie’s prospective new family.

Elsewhere, the ensemble is a joy to watch. Confidently directed by Nikolai Foster – who previously directed a touring version of Annie – they shine under Colin Richmond’s sumptuous designs, which simultaneously manage to both erupt with brightness and then become markedly simple whenever the action requires.

The sequence in Hooverville looks especially stellar, while the bright lights of the Big Apple really glitter when the company comes together for the charming N.Y.C.; elsewhere, Warbucks’ mansion has never looked so good, especially during I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here and for the Christmastime ending, where piles of presents tower high above our heroine’s head.

And then there’s the kids. Led by Ruby Stokes in the titular role on the night we saw the show, they’re simply wonderful. They burst through such iconic numbers as It’s the Hard Knock Life and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile with incredible energy and unmatched gusto that you can barely keep your eyes off any of them.

Special mention has to go to Nicole Subebe as Molly, the smallest of the orphan girls, who simply must’ve grabbed the attention of every single audience member whenever she appeared on stage, so cute and captivating she was.

In short, Annie has always been a theatrical triumph, and this new production has all the makings to be exactly the same as its predecessors. The timeless, heart-warming tale glistens with courage and hopefulness, and there’s nothing wrong in enjoying a little bit of that.

Annie is now showing at Piccadilly Theatre until 6 January 2018. Miranda Hart appears as Miss Hannigan until 17 September 2017. Tickets are on available now at Ticketmaster.co.uk

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