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Musical with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan. Directed by Martin Charnin.
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The Family Musical! The 21st Anniversary Production!
21 years ago Annie opened on Broadway, the following year it opened at the Victoria Palace, London where it enjoyed a hugely successful run. Now after 20 years Annie returns home! Based on the cartoon strip Little Orphan Annie it was translated into a musical by Martin Charnin who returns to London to direct this new production. The musical Annie tells a Depression-era rags-to-riches story of an eleven-year-old orphan who yearns to escape from the orphanage run by the mean-spirited Miss Hannigan. When Daddy Warbucks decides to adopt Annie, her dream comes true!
Songs include 'Tomorrow', 'We'd Like To Thank You', 'Little Girls', 'I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here', 'Easy Street', 'You Won't Be An Orphan For Long', 'You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile' and 'Annie'.
The part of Miss Hannigan was played first by Lesley Joseph, then by Lily Savage (Paul Grady), Lesley Joseph then returned to the part for the last two weeks. The part of Mr Warbucks was played by Kevin Colson through out the run.
VICTORIA PALACE Theatre previewed 22 September, opened 30 September 1998, closed 28 February 1999
Extracts from the reviews (featuring Lesley Joseph as Miss Hannigan):
"You remember the story about little orphan Annie who, with hope in her heart, escapes her New York orphanage, meets Sandy the stray dog and gets adopted for Christmas by kind Daddy Warbucks, a billionaire. Of course, two-and-a-half hours of cutesy children and animals set in the Depression brings to mind Noel Coward's line: "Oh for an hour of Herod." But this quality revival of the 1979 Broadway long-runner is superbly directed by its lyricist Martin Charnin. It's funny how Annie's theme song Tomorrow (the show's one hit) sounds like the Nazi anthem from Cabaret. I admit I spent the first act imagining the fun you could have chucking bits of steak at the stage whenever the dog comes on. But cynics will be disappointed. The show is fast, lavish and does what it does with real comic style. Kenneth Foy's Manhattan back drops are glorious. And Lesley Joseph, that fine trouper with a face like a can opener, has a ball as Miss Hannigan, the crooked soak who runs the orphanage. The hugely experienced Kevin Colson - looking like Kojak - miraculously maintains his dignity as a superb Daddy Warbucks. Kiddies in the audience will thrill to the sight of plucky L'il Annie, played last night by redhead Charlene Barton, a regular little Shirley Temple. A vat of shameless syrup, I lapped it up. In the West End race for the big Christmas outing, Annie moves into poll position." Robert Gore-Langton, The Daily Express
"This beautifully staged revival of the 1970s American musical that rivals peaches and cream for unadulterated wholesomeness proves the age of innocence is alive and well. Who would have dreamed in these suspicious times that a song and dance affair about the intense relations between an elderly bachelor billionaire and the 11-year-old orphan girl he wants to adopt would still go down like the sweetest ice-cream treat? But then Annie disarms cynics and sophisticates with fairy-tale winsomeness. It's a seductive little-girls-nightout of a musical, harking back to the days when billionaires were just as good as gold. Charles Strouse's brassy, not very tuneful music and Martin Charnin's lyrics for Annie are no more memorable than a foggy evening. The optimistic thrust of Tomorrow is the only song with a real future. Yet Annie's lack of tunes does not stop it from spreading a lot of juvenile happiness. And Charnin's own production revels in fairy-tale escapism, wistful humour and clever little girls on stage. Kenneth Foy's imposing sets slide down and sideways on stage with their pictorial back-cloths and visions of New York in the 1930s depression. The grim Manhattan orphanage where Lesley Joseph's sex-starved, alcoholic wardress melodramatically struts, gives way to the billionaire's mansion, stuffed with Picassos and servants. This is a musical which keeps reminding you of how the Manhattan worlds of deprivation and opulence existed within nudging distance of each other in the depression: Annie's first escape is to a company of down and outs in a precarious waste land. The infant charm and interest of the musical depends not just on Annie's quest to discover her parents, but also on the way it keeps artfully shifting between these opposed societies. The tiny orphanage tots, who look no older than five or six, do a terrific, expert pastiche of the professional dancing singers who perform at the NBC radio studio where they sing in nice period tones about "the toothpaste of the stars to make your teeth Hollywood white". Charlene Barton's self-possessed Annie is just as much at home with Franklin Roosevelt in the White House as the orphanage. The brusque billionaire, Oliver Warbucks who enables Annie to make her escape journey strikes me as a rather murky character. A bullet-headed Kevin Colson plays and sings him with dour charmlessness and no touch of wit. There's not even a contemporary Clintonesque edge to his remark: "Find out what Democrats eat." Having indulged his whim of helping an orphan and invited Annie for Christmas at his mansion, Warbucks then becomes quite besotted with her. He speaks of loneliness. They sing, dance and hold each other, delighted to be together, in a way which ought to initiate more censorious action than raising of eyebrows. True though to the dictates of musical romancing, the villainous plan to deprive Annie of her billionaire fails. Charlene Barton who is not the best of child-singers I have heard, maintains an air of easy confidence, and passes impressively from stoicism to joy. Martin Charnin fires his energetic production with the right dancing and singing exuberance, tartly subduing the most glycerine excesses. Only the musical's Republican, smearing travesty of Roosevelt strikes a repellent wrong note. My right eye wept continually - conjunctivitis actually - but even so I was not uncharmed." Nicholas de Jongh, The London Evening Standard
"It should be the soppiest, most sentimental musical that even that renowned sugar-processing plant, Broadway, has produced. After all, ponder the plot. Li'l orphan Annie, the seraph with the all-red curls and the all-rose philosophy, is rescued from New York's nastiest orphanage by Oliver Warbucks, a zillionaire so powerful that Presidents rush from Washington to his Yuletide parties. Not only does he end up adopting her and her bashful mutt: under her 11-year-old influence he joins FDR in a rousing chorus of "a New Deal for Christmas". Yuk. Order ten gross of sickbags. Bring on Sondheim, bring on Herod, bring on anyone likely to take a tough view of savvy tots and rich men bearing gifts. Yet, sap that I was, I enjoyed Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin's musical when it first hit London 20 years ago, and, sap that I still must be, I enjoyed its latest revival. As directed by Charnin it has fizz, it has sophistication, and it has its tongue firmly in its cheek. Mark you, it still tests a sceptic's patience. On the one hand, Kevin Colson's Warbucks is the ruthless tycoon who snaps: "You don't have to be nice to people you meet on the way up if you're not coming back down again." On the other, he must be the loveable face of capitalism, a man so susceptible to moppet charisma that he sings "The world is my oyster but where was the pearl? Who dreamed I could find it in one little girl?" Similarly with Roosevelt, who is discovered in wheelchair and White House musing on the hopelessness of things. A brush with optimistic Annie, and not only is he formulating ways of ending the Depression but he and his Cabinet are chorusing that tomorrow, tomorrow, we love you tomorrow, tomorrow is only a day away. It is awful and yet, with Peter Harding wickedly mimicking the FDR vowels as he babbles on about the only thing to fear being fear itself, it is also very funny. Annie is a musical that tugs at your heartstrings, then plays loonie tunes on them. There are genuinely witty, knowing lines and there is even a bit of bite as Annie escapes from the orphanage to one of those shanty-towns that sprouted in America in the early 1930s. Even if the place's denizens are a mite too clean, they bring plenty of ironic energy to that splendid song, "We'd like to thank you, Mr Hoover". There is a nice parody of a TV show, and there is a hilarious performance by Lesley Joseph as the orphanage wardress, who plots with her sinister, smirking brother to murder Charlene Barton's sweet and surprisingly uncloying Annie and get her mitts on Warbucks's loot. Joseph's looks are surreal: bleached, angular face like some desert animal's skull, rouged cheeks, black hair sprouting as from a burst mattress. But when she grins or cackles or smarms or falls prostrate before FDR or reaches for one of the bourbon bottles she keeps hidden in her horrible green office, she might be auditioning for a role in a Dickens epic. Can you dismiss Annie as cute pap when such a one is playing the villain? No." Benedict Nightingale, The Times
"Mums went absent this week. Still, a cat may look at a king and an orphan can talk to a president. Little Orphan Annie, cartoon strip heroine of the New York Depression, is back on the London stage in lyricist Martin Charnin's 21st anniversary production. And as President Roosevelt says from his wheelchair, she is just the sort of person a president should have around the White House. Unlike some we could mention. Annie advocates chin up, look tomorrow in the face and the sun will shine. She brokers FDR's New Deal by being her little goodhearted self and the White House staff break into close harmony. If only politics could always be that simple. And clean. Annie is given a tough and wellsung performance by Charlene Barton, but the show was stolen on the first night by a cheeky six year-old, Chloe Watson, as the smallest and most delightful of the straggle-haired orphans. Charnin's bright lyrics, Charles Strouse's catchy, melodic music and Thomas Meehan's clever old fashioned libretto all provide the sort of musical theatre evening they really don't write any more. There is even a dog to drool over. Lesley Joseph as the bourbon-swigging Miss Hannigan, who runs the municipal orphanage, is a Dickensian nightmare out of Golders Green and she plays outrageously to the gallery. Luckily I sat in the stalls. Andrew Kennedy as her low-life brother tries to cash in on Annie's good luck. Kevin Colson is the bald, rich industrialist, Warbucks, whose heart is melted by the orphan he takes home for Christmas." Michael Coveney, The Daily Mail