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REVIEW: Annie The Musical at Sunderland Empire

Annie The Musical

Sunderland Empire

Until Saturday 7th October 2023

The musical based on the 1924 comic strip Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray is back in town. 

With music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and a book by Thomas Meehan, this popular musical seems to have been constantly touring for the last couple of decades. It seems a popular musical and, I have to admit, that I had not seen it before, so it was time to see what the fuss was about.

The show is based upon a comic strip and there is a cartoon feel to some of the portrayals of the characters and some of the choreography. Whilst this helps convey energy, it does leave some characters seeming less developed. But, one needs reminding, this is a show for families.

The lead Annie is on a rotation of 3 children and on opening night we had the extremely talented and confident Zoe Akinyosade. A nine year with more guts and panache than the room full of theatre critics. She made Annie a charming character that you wished well. She shared a dorm with six other talented young actors who collaborated in the great opening highlight of the show It's the Hard Knock Life. Their singing, dancing and movement around the set helped set up a buzz around the show.

The show needs a villain and such duties were in the capable hands of Craig Revel-Horwood as Miss Hannigan, the drunken bully who runs the orphanage. It appears that Craig needs to shoot off and be in some television programme or other on Saturday, so the role will pass on to Jodie Prenger. (Apologies to the Strictly fans who I may have upset there).

Two other notable performances tonight come from Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks, the millionaire businessman who decides to borrow Annie from the orphanage for the duration of Christmas, and his faithful secretary Grace, who was wonderfully covered by understudy Dawn Williams. The pair had great voices.

The set and lighting helped keep up the flow of the show that runs for two hours plus interval. It had a feel that was partly in keeping with the period but also of that of a cartoon too.

The show is going to be popular with the fans. A talented, hardworking cast perform around a well designed set, singing the popular classics that stay in the memory.

But... As I said previously, this was my first time and, I'm sad to say, that despite the charming endeavour of the cast, I don't consider myself a fan of the story. I guess that you cannot love everything.

Review: Stephen Oliver

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