REVIEW: ANNIE (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★

It was seeing Annie in the early 80’s that instilled in me a lifelong love of theatre, so I was very excited to be seeing the show at Sunderland Empire this week.

It’s 1933, America is in the midst of a depression and little orphan Annie (Kiana Dumbuya, Mia Lakha and Ava Smith sharing the role) lives with the other girls (Team Chrysler on press night) in the Hudson Street Orphanage, under the “care” of Miss Hannigan (Lesley Joseph). Desperate to find her parents (who left her with a note and a locket) Annie manages to escape and find a stray dog she names Sandy (played by Amber with a very waggy tail). Returned to the orphanage, she manages to be in the right place at the right time when Grace Farrell (Carolyn Maitland) arrives to take an orphan home to stay with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Alex Bourne) to spend the Christmas holiday.

For such a little girl, Annie had a huge voice. During ‘Hard Knock Life’ with all the orphans, the live band seemed to drown out the voices but for Annie’s solo’s ‘Maybe’ and ‘Tomorrow’ she was clear and confident.

Lesley Joseph played Miss Hannigan to perfection. She used her body language and facial expressions exceptionally well and while being humorous, she imbued the character with a pathos which made it difficult to dislike her. The number ‘Little Girls’ was a stand-out and her interaction with Rooster (Richard Meek) and Lily St Regis (Jenny Gayner) gave us several comedic high points.

Carolyn Maitland played Grace Farrell in a sweet and loving way and with a fabulous singing voice. Alex Bourne was a quintessential Daddy Warbucks, seamlessly blending his tough and tender sides. He has a large stage presence and a great voice.

The set, costumes and lighting finish off the professionalism this production, with great use of projection and set changes to plunge us immediately into 1930’s New York. Nick Winston’s choreography is outstanding, big set pieces reminiscent of classic Broadway with tap dancing and lots of fabulous footwork

Touring the UK with 21 little girls and a dog must surely lead to its own set of both fun and problems so a massive shout out to the tutors and chaperones and dog handlers helping this show to be seamlessly magical.

Annie is an excellent family musical that leaves you full of hope and happiness for the future.

Reviewed by Susan Lindsay
Photo: Paul Coltas

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