I love musical theatre, and I am so happy that the kids are getting old enough to enjoy it with me as well. Last year we saw some fabulous shows together, and I’m planning on continuing the kids’ theatrical education in the same vein this year. We usually take both kids to a matinee performance, but theatre tickets aren’t cheap and the geekson is still a little young for some shows, so I’d been thinking about perhaps taking just the geekdaughter to the odd thing. When I discovered that I could get half price tickets for the opening night of Annie at our local theatre, the Regent in Stoke-on-Trent (thanks to my ATG theatre card), I decided we’d give that a try, thinking that the geekdaughter is probably old enough to cope with a night out on a school night. So on Monday night she and I set out for our first ever girls’ night out together.
I’ve never seen Annie on stage before. I saw the (first) movie in the cinema as a birthday treat many years ago, and loved it. We took the kids to see the new movie version last year, and I was really impressed with the way the story had been updated for a modern audience. The touring version is true to the original stage show that inspired both movies, and hasn’t had any updating in terms of story. Little orphan Annie is growing up in 1930s America, dreaming that her parents will return and take her away from her “hard-knock” life. Being a spirited girl, she takes matters into her own hands and runs away from the orphanage and its imposing, child-hating matron Miss Hannigan. She makes friends with a stray dog and meets some people made homeless as a result of the Great Depression. The local law enforcement find her and return her to the orphanage, where in a strange twist of fate she then has the opportunity to spend Christmas with the billionaire bachelor businessman, Oliver Warbucks. After a trip to the movies and a quick visit to the White House the spirited young girl melts the ice-cold heart of said businessman, who decides he wants to adopt her. But Annie wants to find her real parents, so a full-scale search is launched, with a large reward offered. Many imposters turn up to try to claim the reward, but only one couple appear to be genuine. Or are they? Of course the show finishes with a happily ever after.
I must confess, whilst I enjoyed the production, I was left thinking the show was perhaps starting to show its age. The references to the Depression, and historical American presidents passed right over the 8-year-old geekdaughter’s head. However, that didn’t seem to detract from her enjoyment of the show. Annie is crammed full of show-stopping songs, kicking off with “Hard Knock Life”, through “Tomorrow” all the way to “Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, and the pace of the stage show is just right – the story progresses fast, and I never thought it dragged. The stand out stars of the show were the kids – the girl playing Annie was just amazing with a fantastic stage presence, larger-than-life personality, and the singing voice to match. The other orphans all played their parts well, and the supporting ensemble were all great. Perhaps the only disappointment to me was Lesley Joseph as Miss Hannigan. She wasn’t as outrageous as I felt the role demands. It didn’t help that both the geekdaughter and I knew that Strictly Come Dancing’s Crag Revel-Horwood has been playing the role in earlier legs of the tour, and we both felt that we’d have rather seen him, as he would have probably “camped up” the character a lot more.
The overall production was very high quality, with excellent sets, slick staging and great choreography. When I asked the geekdaughter what she thought, she said she loved it and had had a great time. So whilst I had a couple of reservations about the show that would stop me raving totally about it, it was still a great night out, and I would still recommend seeing it.
The Annie UK Tour is at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent until Saturday, and then moves on to Glasgow’s Kings Theatre. The production will be touring the UK throughout 2016, and there’s an interactive map on their website so you can check if it’s coming to anywhere near you.