Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with review tickets for Annie for the purpose of this review
In the words of Annie herself, “Oh boy!” – this is a wonderfully perfect production of the classic musical. More than four and a half decades since Annie originally opened on Broadway in 1977, closely followed by the smash hit film in 1982, the tale of the feisty red-headed orphan continues to delight audiences and sell out theatres around the world.
And that was certainly the case in Cardiff last night where Annie, on a UK tour fresh from the West End, opened to a packed-out Wales Millennium Centre for the first of eight performances.
I took my nine year old youngest child and we both loved it. It’s a feel-good show with a cracking soundtrack, a little bit of history and politics, and a hugely talented cast who deliver a faultless performance that evokes the great musicals of times gone by.
Set in 1930s New York during The Great Depression, Annie lives a life of misery at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. When she’s chosen to spend the Christmas holidays with famous billionaire Oliver Warbucks, her luck begins to change. However, Miss Hannigan has other ideas and hatches a plan to spoil Annie’s search for her true family…
Strictly Come Dancing favourite Craig Revel Horwood once again stars as Miss Hannigan, the tyrannical head of the orphanage where Annie resides with a group of other young orphans. We saw Craig in the same role back in 2019 and he’s as fantastic now as he was back then. Clad in silk pyjamas and robe, Craig drunkenly sashays around the stage, bottle of gin in hand, terrorising the poor orphans and trying to charm the adults. His rendition of Little Girls where Miss Hannigan laments being surrounded by her young charges, and Easy Street with Miss Hannigan’s unhinged criminal brother Rooster (Paul French) and Billie-Kay as his wife Lily St Regis both edge on the menacing, as the characters’ sinister sides show through, but with plenty of humour too (although perhaps some moments are a little too raunchy for a family audience).
The rest of the adult cast includes Alex Bourne as an endearing Daddy Warbucks, Amelia Adams as Grace Farrell, and several other performers each playing several smaller parts, including Warbucks’ staff and the homeless residents of Hooverville (who remind us that people are still being shafted by politicians a century on).
But for me, it’s the kids who make this show. There’s a rotating cast playing the young orphans with the girls in the roles of Annie, Molly, Pepper, Duffy, Kate, July and Tessie all giving exceptional performers tonight, delivering energetic song and dance routines. It’s The Hard-Knock Life is particularly impressive and I loved their rendition of You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile. Zoe Akinyosade was our Annie last night. Just nine years old, she has a confidence way beyond her years, commanding the stage with strong vocals and the sassiness the part requires. What an exceptional young performer.
And of course special mention must go to Sandy, the stray dog Annie befriends, played by a real dog no less, who is greeted with lots of awws and ahhs every time he’s on stage.
The costumes, vocal harmonies and sets all perfectly evoke the 1930s vibe while the jigsaw pieces and street maps in the background convey Annie’s complex life and give this production a modern touch.
Fans of the 1977 film will love how faithful the stage show is to that, but equally if you’ve never seen Annie before it’s a wonderfully entertaining show filled with memorable songs, a few twists and turns before it gets to its heartwarming ending, and perfect for all ages.
Annie is at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 8 July, Tickets are still available, costing from £18. Age guidance 5+, no entry to under twos. Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes, including an interval. For more information, visit the website here.
The UK tour continues until the end of November.