Annie (Queensland Musical Theatre)
Schonell Cinema and Live Theatre
June 5 – 9
Little Orphan Annie has been a part of American pop culture since first appearing as a 1924 comic strip. Although the story became a hit Broadway musical, “Annie” in 1977, it is probably its 1982 film version that is its most widely known and recognised realisation, whether that be because of the titular Annie’s iconic red party dress, her loveable mutt Sandy or the inspired casing of Carol Burnett as orphanage matron Miss Hannigan. And from the moment that Queensland Musical Theatre’s production of “Annie” opens in overture, we are reminded not only of this, but of its enduring soundtrack thanks to the 14-piece orchestra’s brilliant realisation (Conductor Trenton Dunstan). The show is packed full of musical highlights from the early ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ and anthemic ‘Tomorrow” to ‘NYC’ and ‘I think I’m Gonna Like It Here’ and their orchestral arrangements are a wonderful reminder of why the musical won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The excellence continues into the show’s opening orphanage scenes where we meet the energetic Annie (Jade Kelly). Although living in the orphanage under the care of the happiness-hating Miss Hanigan (Lisa Mellor), Annie refuses to accept that she is an orphan, believing that one day she will be re-united with her parents. Kelly’s flawless voice and beautiful high range are showcased in the plucky ‘Tomorrow’, sung in comfort to ‘her’ friendly stray dog Sandy. She also embodies the kind-hearted protagonist when offered the chance to spend Christmas with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Nathaniel Currie), softening the sophisticated entrepreneur, as well as US President FDR towards his optimistic new deal.
The youth cast of orphans is outstanding. In addition to Annie, of particular note is Tia Godbold as the littlest orphan, Molly, who loves making her friends (and the audience) laugh. Not only is she gorgeously precocious and full of personality, but she shows impressive professionalism to cope with a mid-scene dis-attached microphone dilemma.
Meanwhile, Currie embodies the role of the charismatic Warbucks and he sings like a dream; his Act Two ‘Something Was Missing’ where he shares his realisation that he’s spent his whole life building up his empire without allowing time for love in any way, is simply beautiful.
Annie’s stay at the billionaire’s mansion, however, is not all gifts and good times with Warbucks and his faithful secretary Grace (Abby Page), as she is left vulnerable to fraudsters, including the rough and tumble brother to Miss Hannigan, Rooster (Darcy Rhodes) and his egotistical gold digger girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Ellen Axford), who pose as Annie’s parents in attempt to get their hands on Warbuck’s advertised reward. As convict Rooster, Rhodes is the show’s absolute standout. His razzle dazzle performance is expressively larger-than-life as he exploits all of its comic possibilities, making it impossible to divert your eyes in his every on-stage appearance. He also helps to make the jazzy ‘Easy Street’ another Act One high point, full of energy and showcase of on-point harmonies.
There are many performance highlights in this professional production. The large cast means that there are busy ensemble numbers featuring over two dozen performers on stage, such as when, in escape from the orphanage, Annie comes across New York’s Hooverille, where people made homeless by the Great Depression have come together a community. Projected backdrops establish the era, with suffering all around. Costumes are well-chosen, however, some props not of the era, even if added for joke value, detract from the otherwise careful attention to detail. And sound lapses in microphone cues cause some minor distraction, as does an annoyingly very wobbly set door. Still, it is easy to understand why the Schonell Theatre is at audience capacity, for this not only a musical with wide appeal, but a production of immense worth, obviously enjoyed by all, given its rapturous curtain call applause.
Although it is set at the ‘hard knock life’ time of the Great Depression, “Annie” is far from downbeat. Instead, its affirmation of the unyielding hope of tomorrow makes it a buoyant family friendly favourite. While the story has cute and cheeky orphans to appeal to youngsters and the guaranteed awe of appearance of a dog onstage, there is adult attraction too, through dialogue humour around the politics and personalities of the time. In many regards, this is a triumphant production of the classic rags-to-riches story that will have you leaving with smile on your face, warmth in your heart and its catalogue of catchy tunes in competition in your head.