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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Annie Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester

Audiences cannot get enough of the precocious, tap dancing kid whose Hard Knock Life moves swiftly onto Easy Street. Having already produced three film adaptations that have updated Annie from a red-headed orphan into an African American foster child, it is clear that this rags to riches tale is going nowhere.

While its original Broadway show debuted in 1977, this rebooted production polishes its cruder characters and lewder songs for the sake of full family entertainment. With uncluttered, airborne sets and the use of clever lighting, this bright and breezy production brings the 30s squarely to the present. The Opera House’s shadowy staging of a broken jigsaw puzzle is brought to life by director Nikolai Foster who offers a riveting revival of the gritty musical. The production promptly moves from outrageously lavish scenery to ragamuffins cleaning dirty floors, thanks chiefly to its fantastic ensemble cast whose choreography lifts the story alongside their collective numbers. As the cast shape the sets around themselves, Foster is able to make Annie’s New York a vast playground that engulfs the audience.

Renewing the original story that pins comic book villains against an all-girl orphanage, the feel-good fairy-tale adjusts the feisty girl-power character into a quietly confident heroine. The delectable Taziva-Faye Katsande takes on the role based on the Orphan Annie 1924 comic strip set during the 1933 Great Depression. Treating audiences to a time travelling trip back to the good old days when serving gruel and leading kids by the ear was perfectly acceptable.

We follow orphan Annie and friends under the care of the animated Miss Hannigan, played by Anita Dobson (EastEnders, Wicked, Chicago). Alongside dodging Hannigan’s old-school punishments, Annie’s on a mission to find her birth parents with only one half of a memory locket left to trace them. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, politician and billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Alex Bourne) requires a popularity boost and his assistant Grace Farrell (Carolyn Maitland) has decided that renting an orphan for two weeks would enhance his public perception. Fortunately for us, Annie is picked and musical levity ensues.

The high energy ensemble cast are put to good use with the songs You Won’t Be an Orphan for Long and N.Y.C . The films familiar tracks, Let’s Go to the Movies and Sign are removed from the stage production, refreshing the story for a younger audience and bridgeing the gap between its modern film remake. Amending surreal songs about how great it is to go to the movies with your billionaire friend and dog also alters the overall story that has a more relatable, make do and mend theme. However, the show includes several elaborate asides to counter its sombre narrative and the quirkiest of characters to hard sell this tale of woe. By playing out heart-warming songs, I Don’t Need Anything But You and Tomorrow alongside the informal Easy Street, the show forms a lot of warmth and charm. Stompy, entertaining choreography is added to Hard Knock Life where the talented orphan establishment break out the washcloths to clean up with the audience and Warbucks’ entourage of butlers tap-dance, skate and ribbon dance.

Despite actors claims that you should never work with children or animals, this production abandons the suspicion to enormous success. Annie and her companion Sandy, the dog, offer the best elements of this musical, showcasing the UK’s most talented teens. Taziva-Faye Katsande delivers the emotion and power needed to run this down to earth, moralistic narrative. It’s easy to see why audiences continue to relish in the sugar-coated tale of Orphan Annie as it’s a heartfelt tale that finds a silver lining in the darkest of clouds.

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