From the moment the orchestra launched the show with a rousing medley of infamous Annie tunes, it was clear that all the magic of the much-loved story was going to be retained in the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of this musical classic. As Annie burst into life to lead the team of rowdy orphans into a rousing rendition of ‘It’s the Hard Knock Life’, the noisy, smoking landscape of 1930s New York took over the stage.
Set in a bleak New York suffering from the economic hardships of the Great Depression, Annie tells the story of the plucky young orphan who runs away from the malicious Miss Hannigan in an effort to find her real parents. During her adventures, she encounters all walks of New York life, from the homeless people living in the Hooverville shantytowns, to the affluent Oliver Warbucks, to President Roosevelt himself. Annie’s eternal optimism and unwavering determination have an uplifting effect on everyone she meets, melting the heart of an old billionaire and even influencing governmental policies.
The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s interpretation of Annie was a finely executed display of talent. As the stage seamlessly transformed from the crammed and dingy orphanage to the sparkling lights of a version of New York Annie had never experienced before, the actors told the tale of the redheaded orphan with an abundance of humour and emotional depth.
The cast of Annie were outstanding without exception. The young actors playing Annie’s fellow orphans were particularly impressive, keeping perfect time with each other as they gave foot-stomping, gutsy performances of all the musical’s classic songs. Annie herself, played by the wonderfully talented Sophie Downham, was believable as both the courageous orphan braving the city streets alone and the vulnerable little girl desperately searching for her parents. Sarah Ingram was brilliant as the gin-addled Miss Hannigan, hilariously portraying the drunken orphanage owner and managing to access a spark of humanity beneath the layers of nastiness and scheming at the same time.
The only minor downside of an otherwise flawless production stems from grievances with the plot itself, rather than the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s interpretation. Annie’s tale strays slightly out of the realms of believability with the heavy involvement of President Roosevelt – that Annie’s rendition of ‘Tomorrow’ could have inspired the government to adopt The New Deal in an effort to pull the country out of the Great Depression is a little farfetched. This being said, historical intricacies need to be taken with a pinch of salt; the message that Annie’s cheerful outlook can have such a positive effect on the lives of others is a worthwhile one, even if a little contrived.
Annie is a heartfelt production performed by an indisputably talented cast. With its sparkling lights, unforgettable songs and Christmas cheer. The perfect musical to kick-start the festive season.
Annie is playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 21 January 2012. For more information, visit their website.