Friday, January 6, 2012

ANNIE - The Musical

Produced by: The Gordon Frost Organisation and associates.
Lyric Theatre, The Star, Sydney until the end of March 2012.

Performance 4th January reviewed by: Bill Stephens

Annie (Lucille Le Meledo), F.D.R. (Alan Jones) Miss Hannigan (Nancye Hayes) Daddy Warbucks (Anthony warlow)

If, like me, you consider you’ve seen more than enough productions of “Annie” for one lifetime, then think again! This new production is sheer delight from start to finish and you’d be silly to miss it.

There are many reasons why this show has remained a perennial favourite for both professional and amateur companies since it first opened on Broadway in 1977. Among them, it’s tuneful score, by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, which is packed with familiar, toe-tapping songs. It has a winning storyline, by Thomas Meehan, about a little orphan girl and her lovable stray dog, who catches the eye of a billionaire who enlists the American President to help find her long lost mother and father. It’s got children, animals and characters that are funny, appealing and lend themselves to interpretation.

For this new production producer, John Frost, has obviously not skimped to ensure that the show looks and sounds as fresh and bright as a new pin. He has assembled a topline cast and production team, which includes director Karen Johnson Mortimer who certainly knows how to keep the storyline clear and focussed, and the action bubbling along at a quick clip.

There’s lots of quick-flying scenery, designed by Kenneth Foy, to provide the spectacle including tantalising glimpses of various sumptuous rooms in Daddy Warbuck’s house, the streets of New York during the 1933 depression, and the inside and out of Miss Hannigan’s decrepit, run-down orphanage, all artfully lit by Trudy Dalgleish. There’s also Kristian Fredrikson’s elegant period costumes which enhance the many clever dance sequences devised by the brilliant Kelly Aykers.

                             Annie (Lucille Le Melodo) and Daddy Warbucks (Anthony Warlow)

Even though he played Daddy Warbucks to great acclaim in the 2000 production of “Annie”, Anthony Warlow has not been content to rest on his laurels. This time around his interpretation of the role is decidedly more playful and warmer. His scenes with Annie, especially in the second act, are quite touching, and his superb rendition of “Something Was Missing” provides the vocal highlight of the show.

Nancye Hayes, disregarding warnings about working with children and animals, is nothing short of wonderful as Miss Hannigan. Her characterisation is a lesson in timing and stagecraft, with its wickedly-detailed, deliciously funny, stage-business, underpinned with the genuine pathos that marks a great comedic performance. This sad, funny little person is such a push-over for the orphans, that you get the distinct impression, that, despite her curmudgeonly ways, they love her as much as the audience do.

Todd McKenney does little to disguise his delight in the role of the roguish Rooster Hannigan, and is perfectly teamed with the impossibly long-legged Chloe Dallimore, as Lilli St Regis. They are both extraordinary dancers, who obviously enjoy working together and both prove to be dab hands at comedy. Watching McKenney, Dallimore and Hayes chew up the scenery with their show-stopping number “Easy Street” is sheer music theatre heaven. It’s a pity these characters have so little to do in the second act.

Miss Hannigan (Nancye Hayes) Rooster Hannigan (Todd McKenney) Lilli St Regis (Chloe Dallimore)

Julie Goodwin (the singer, not the TV cook) is well cast as Grace, the demure, efficient secretary to Daddy Warbucks. Jack Webster contributes a spiffy tap dance moment as the butler, Drake, and Alan Jones proves to be surprisingly effective in the role of President F.D.R.

Lucille Le Meledo, the daughter of Debra Byrne, and one of three girls who share the role of Annie during the season, played and sang the role delightfully, even managing to hold audience attention against some strong competition whenever her dog Sandy appeared. The other children in the cast acquitted themselves well, and impressed with their abilities to perform some quite tricky choreography in their musical numbers.

                                                             Annie (Lucille Le Meledo)
Peter Casey directs the large orchestra which, joyfully, includes real string players instead of the ubiquitous keyboards.

One would be hard-pressed to think of a better way to introduce a child to the wonders of live theatre performance than treat them to a performance of this beautifully mounted, exuberantly performed production of a musical that has it all.