Theatre Review: Annie, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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Image Source: Annie

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Comedy
Genre: Musical
Date: March 8 2016
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Although the young children who will want to see Annie on stage will have the 2014 movie in mind, Annie itself was actually originally a Broadway musical, first performed in 1977. And the recent film adaptation is actually the third movie to focus on Annie’s story: the original movie (often considered to be the best of the trilogy, if you can call it that) was released in 1982, followed by a 1999 flick produced for television by Disney, and finally the aforementioned remake from 2014.

Regardless of where you first heard about Annie, though, the main story remains very similar to that of its predecessors. It’s New York City just before Christmas 1932 and Annie (Anya Evans), one of eight orphans living in Miss Hannigan’s Municipal Girls Orphanage, dreams about one day leaving to find her true parents, especially since Hannigan (Lesley Joseph) treats the children terribly by forcing them to constantly work, particularly through sewing. Annie makes a failed escape attempt and Hannigan thinks that Annie is once again under her control, until a lady named Grace Farrell (Holly Dale Spencer) pops around. It turns around that the famous billionaire Mr. Warbucks (Alex Bourne) is looking to bring an orphan to live in his mansion over the winter holidays, and given the description that Grace provides, Annie is the perfect choice, much to Hannigan’s chagrin.

Annie loves the opportunity to enjoy life under Warbucks’ watch, and Warbucks himself wishes to adopt Annie permanently. However, Annie’s real hope is to meet her real parents, and so Warbucks begins a search to find Annie’s true parents using his contacts, the local radio and even President Roosevelt (played by Callum McArdle), but to no avail. The stakes are raised when Warbucks offers $50,000 if Annie’s parents resurface, which offers the unscrupulous Hannigan and her two equally incorrigible friends Rooster (Jonny Fines) and Lily (Djalenga Scott) an opportunity to try and deceive their way to the five-figure prize. It all leads to an eventful 24 hours over the Christmas period where twists and turns lead to the truth being revealed, and with the audience discovering where Annie’s future will lie (bear in mind that Annie was only sent to live with Warbucks for the two weeks over Xmas; she was required to return to the orphanage after that).

The story is simple and easy to follow, and it’s clear from early on who the audience should be backing and who it should dislike. Anya Evans is great as Annie; the star of the show, she displays acting and singing talent (her rendition of “Tomorrow”, which is repeated by other characters later on, is the most memorable song from the entire show), which could make her a well-known star in the future. The other children also shine during their own musical numbers (an example being It’s The Hard Knock Life; not the Jay-Z version, by the way, as that one came later and is a bit too risqué for a family show), and Andie Jordan in particular is very good as Molly, the youngest of the orphans. The other characters do a good job on the whole; it’s either a compliment or a downside that Lesley Joseph is unrecognisable as Hannigan due to her portrayal of the evil orphanage owner.

Slight negatives to the show are that there were some occasional audio difficulties, and unless you watched the film, you will at times not understand certain plot developments (Annie persuading the President and his associates on how to approach America’s financial crisis seems far-fetched if you didn’t know that this happened on the big screen too). I also thought that, for a children’s show, there were too many periods of momentary silence between the characters where not much was going on, and it could have benefitted from some more genuinely funny moments to get the kids laughing. This is a show which, besides the plot, is structured around the music, and to that end Annie does a good job, especially since the songs will also keep the parents interested. (My other, own personal problem is that, a stray dog named Sandy is found early on by Annie and occasionally runs from one side of the stage to another, which is a negative due to my lifelong fear of dogs!)

There are also some fairly big differences between this theatre production and both the 1982 original and the 2014 remake. For instance, while Warbucks plays an important role on the stage, his involvement is far greater in the movies, not least for how his relationship with Grace evolves into a noteworthy side-plot. In addition, on stage, Hannigan remains a villain throughout, whereas the films see her have a change of heart just before the ending. It does, however, retain the timeline of being set in New York City circa 1932, which was used by the original film, but not by the 2014 update, which brought things to the present day. Some songs are in a slightly different order to the movies too, although that is to be expected in theatre when the story has to be adapted slightly to suit the audience’s tastes. (The Disney version from 1999 is different enough that comparisons with the stage show are largely irrelevant.)

In summary, Annie is a fun night at the theatre for all the family, particularly the youngsters in attendance who will have seen the 2014 film and will enjoy seeing it come to life on the stage, as will older members of the audience who may have seen the original movie.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good