Annie

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

Sunset Boulevard

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan (4)

After firstly workshopping the role of Norma Desmond an incredible 26 years ago Ria Jones finally gets to shine as the leading lady in Leicester Curve’s revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s magnificent Sunset Boulevard which opened at Manchester’s Palace theatre last night.

Forgotten screen siren Norma Desmond (Ria Jones) lives a lonely and reclusive life in her mansion up on Sunset Boulevard, the silent movie star is surplus to requirement now that talkies have taken over tinsel town, yet she refuses to believe there could ever be a bigger star than her. She desperately needs a comeback, an opportunity to make people realise she is still a big deal, cue the arrival of penniless screenwriter Joe Gillis (Danny Mac) who stumbles into her fantasy world and becomes seduced by the luxurious lifestyle and the potential ‘masterpiece’ she feels will make them both their fortune and catapult her back where she belongs.

Ria Jones gives the performance of her life as Norma Desmond in this twisted and tragic love story. Her portrayal of the aging actress, clawing onto her past relevance is sublime. One minute she is carefree, laughing, smiling and full of joy the next full of rage as her insecurities suffocate and threaten to consume her. Fragile yet fearless, talented but tragically cast aside by Hollywood, Jones puts every ounce of her being into her performance and is an absolute triumph.

Danny Mac is equally superb as writer Joe Gillis, his desperation to succeed sucks him into Desmond’s fantasy, vocally this is a hugely demanding role and Mac is more than up to the job as he guides us through this tragic tale, rarely off stage he delivers and then some, he is perfectly cast and entirely believable, his voice smooth and strong.

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High praise must also go Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer and Adam Pearce as Max Von Meyerling, both are superb in their supporting roles making each hugely memorable.

With deliciously dramatic staging, involving Norma Desmond arriving into most scenes via moving platforms or via theatrically winding staircases Sunset Boulevard really is a show of great style and serious quality. Ben Cracknell’s atmospheric lighting is outstanding, illuminating both Colin Richmond’s set and costumes to perfection, Norma Desmond’s costumes especially are delightfully opulent, velvets and silks are lavishly jewelled and feathered, further rubber-stamping the undeniable diva we see on stage.

Accompanied by a sublime sixteen piece orchestra Sunset Boulevard is not to be missed, dramatic, dark and utterly compelling.

★★★★★

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 4th November book tickets here; http://m.atgtickets.com/shows/sunset-boulevard/palace-theatre-manchester/