ANNIE. Book by Thomas Meehan. Music by Charles Strouse. Lyrics by Martin Charnin. Directed by Nikolai Foster. Choreographed by Nick Winston. Orchestrator George Dyer. Musical Director Bryan Schimmel. With Lilla Fleischmann, Charon Williams-Ros, Neels Clasen, Taryn Sudding, Stephen Jubber, Delray Halgryn, Mike Huff, Ben Mundy, Richard Vorster and Candice van Litsenborgh
Sage advice often shared in the entertainment industry is to never work with children and animals. The brave folk directing Annie have thrown caution through the window with a cast of several children and two dogs and have come up smiling. This production has recently been performed on the West End and aside from the local cast, the set, costumes and design have been replicated meticulously.
Annie made her debut as a character in a comic strip on 5 August 1924. With its universal themes of hope and perseverance and strong political undertones, it was a favourite among children and adults alike. Martin Charnin bought a copy of the collection in the 1970s and was inspired to create the musical with Strouse and Meehan. It is one of the most loved musicals of all times and ran for almost six years when it first opened on Broadway. It has been translated into 28 languages and staged in 34 different countries and in each one wins over even the hardest of hearts.
Hard Knock Life
It’s not difficult to see why as the charming red-haired young girl joins her orphan companions in the orphanage for a rendition for It’s the Hard Knock Life. Although this was set in the depression of 1929, the circumstances of children in dire poverty are much the same and one only has to switch on the news to see the devastating conditions faced by children in 2016. What has changed, however, are the status and rights of children and I am not quite sure how the request from a billionaire to borrow an orphan for the holidays would be received today. Nevertheless Daddy Warbucks, superbly played by Neels Clasen, does take the young girl under his wing and in doing so a series of events unfolds which impacts not just Annie and the orphanage but the entire country.
There is a deep irony in watching a musical set in America in the height of the depression, at a time when President Roosevelt was struggling to make the country great. After Annie’s’ serendipitous meeting with him, some naïve yet accurate advice is incorporated in to the New Deal. It is these political threads that prevent the musical being just a sentimental orphan story and adds enough food for thought for the adults in the audience.
The pivotal role of Annie can make or break the show
The pivotal role of Annie can make or break the production and twelve-year-old Lilla Fleischmann from Herzlia Primary, who has previously performed in the Sound of Music makes the show, and then some. Her voice rings out through the auditorium and her rendition of Tomorrow induced goose bumps. The size of her voice is completely disproportionate to her small frame and as she steps in to the spotlight to sing that trademark song, there is little doubt as to who is the star of the show. Three different actors play the role, the other two are Emma Rose Blacher and Caitlin Dicker and there are three different casts of orphans. Shani Sachs’ portrayal of Molly deserves a special mention. She is quite charming and has an onstage presence that belies the relatively minor role she portrays.
The strength of the ensemble, choreographically and vocally sets this production apart from previous ones, and their slick routines do not flag for a moment. Richard Vorster raises more than his fair share of laughs as he plays the quintessential butler, Drake and Stephen Jubber as the ne’er-do-well Rooster is immensely watchable
Annie is a family musical that is perfect for the holiday season. The performances, set, orchestra and costumes are world class and as the global village becomes smaller each and every day, an ailing USA, saved by the optimism of a red-haired orphan girl may not be such a bad idea after all.
Where and When: Artscape Theatre until 8 January 2017