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Review Annie, Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Based on the book by Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Nikolai Foster
Choreographer: Nick Winston.
Set and Costume Designer: Colin Richmond
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Back on stage again, and touring after a highly successful London run, ‘Annie’ the musical, based on the book by Thomas Meehan and the popular comic strip Little Orphan Annie, the original Broadway production of Annie the musical, back in the Seventies, was an outstanding success, running for six years. Not surprising, really – the rags to riches story of eleven-year-old orphan Annie couldn’t fail to grab at the heart strings. The same is true now in this latest production, directed by Nikolai Foster. A musical with the heart-warming theme of a young girl living in an orphanage from which she is determined to escape and find her parents, never fails to be popular with audiences around the UK.

This time around, the darker side is given more prominence. Set in New York, in the Thirties, the time of the Great Depression when President Roosevelt and his cabinet were struggling to find a way through, set designer Colin Richmond uses random jigsaw pieces to emphasize the disjointed existence led by many – not least the orphans, of whom eleven-year-old Annie is the ringleader, under the tyrannical rule of the scary Miss Hannigan.

While the problems of the situation then can be seen to have relevance to our lives in the UK today, with the aftermath of the Pandemic, the lengthy prequel in the form of radio bulletins coming over speakers is overlong, given that the action speaks for itself. Nevertheless, this rejigged version scores, albeit much of it being carried on the shoulders of the highly watchable Craig Revel Horwood, segueing in high heels onto the stage of the Donald Gordon theatre for the second time – the last time was 2019 – in the role that he has made his own.

As the scheming harridan intent on looking after number one, Revel Horwood takes command of the stage, giving it welly with gusto in Easy Street in Act I, and proving yet again – as if we needed reminding -that judging Strictly is not by any means his only talent. Revel Horwood acts and dances with expertise; his timing is spot on. A true pro – although given n that this is the fifth production in which he has played the role, it is hardly surprising.

On opening night in Cardiff, the leading role of Annie was played by Zoe Akinyosade. A challenging role for any young aspiring actress, this young actress and singer ‘gets’ Annie, although there are times when she needs to guard against her voice becoming over shrill, this being exampled in her solo Tomorrow in Act II. There was a tendency for this to be the case with several of the young performers, compensated for by the verve with which they performed the energetic moves required by Nick Winston’s clever and innovative choreography.

The popular Alex Bourne, who played the role in the West End production, is a lovable Daddy Warbucks –the business tycoon who becomes an avuncular figure as he faces the challenges involved in becoming Annie’s adoptive Dad. The wistful Something Was Missing, sung by Warbucks and Annie in Act I and later reprised in Act II, scored Brownie points with this reviewer, while Paul French’s Rooster cuts the mustard on all fronts. Full marks to all the young performers for some superb dance moves.

As if performing with a posse of young actors wasn’t enough in itself, to challenge the adult performers, there is also a cuddly dog who trots back and forth obediently across the stage discreetly rewarded by the necessary treats.

Runs until Saturday July 8th at Wales Millennium Stadium