Music Theatre

Annie review [Melbourne]

Ever-loveable orphan Annie has made her way back to musical-loving Melbourne after a two-town tryout up north.

The remounting of a ten year old production could be cynically looked at as a moneymaking exercise, and the title alone would surely sell countless tickets, but producer John Frost has galvanized the new season with the mega wattage of a starry theatrical cast. Luxury casting abounds, matched by the energy and passion of a new generation of child performers.

The well-known story of an adorable orphan spending Christmas with a billionaire is given some extra current relevance given the financial hardships of the depression era setting. Were the show set eighty years later in the present day, the residents of the Hooverville shantytown could “occupy Wall St”, although in a version such as this, Daddy Warbucks, representing the “1%”, might not be cast in such a favourable light.

Kenneth Foy’s settings are on a lavish scale rarely seen in new musicals. Complemented by Kristian Fredikson’s costumes, the designs for the orphanage and streets of New York capture a grainy grayscale effect reminiscent of the story’s origins as a newspaper comic strip. By contrast, the Warbucks mansion emits the lush green glow of cash.

While the opulent Regent Theatre is a far better match for the era of the setting than the ultramodern Sydney Lyric, the staging is somewhat dwarfed by the massive proscenium arch here, with large panels needed to mask the top and sides. With a high expectation set at the Regent by productions such as Wicked and Love Never Dies, it would seem that a slightly smaller house such as Her Majesty’s would have been more appropriate. Given the number of children likely to attend, this also would have kept the audience closer and more engaged with the human action on stage.

Caitlin Marks made a most auspicious debut on opening night as Annie. The confidence and strong volume of her speaking voice combined with her expert stagecraft give the impression of a far more seasoned performer and certainly bode well for her continued work in the theatre. The entire set of orphans, given the best of Kelly Aykers’ inventive, well-drilled choreography, are a powerhouse set of triple threats.

Karen Johnson Mortimer’s direction creates virtually nonstop action, with smooth set changes incorporated in full view as scenes continue apace. If the humour has become a little broader as the tour has progressed it is all part of the fun for cast and audience.

Anthony Warlow is all class and charm as Warbucks, exuding a warmth and generosity of spirit with his fellow performers. He is given just enough to sing to delight fans of his mellifluous vocals and he capably demonstrates his all-too-rarely seen comic timing.

Living legend Nancye Hayes graces the stage with energy and verve a performer half her age would be lucky to have. Playing Miss Hannigan as more of a broken down kewpie doll at the end of her wits than an out and out villain, Hayes’ delightful vocal expression wins the audience’s affection and what she can do with an understated dance step is worth a dozen high kicking chorines.

Todd McKenney and Chloë Dallimore burn up the stage as the fiendish but dimwitted Rooster and Lily, playing to the back stalls of the cavernous Regent auditorium. Julie Goodwin’s golden soprano is a pleasure to hear in the thankless role of private secretary Grace Farrell.

Jack Webster bristles with theatrical polish as head butler Drake. Talented actor Luke Joslin is a dapper Bert Healy. Strong support also comes from Tony Farrell and Rod Waterworth in a number of featured roles.

The 1978 Melbourne season of Annie kickstarted this reviewer’s love affair with musical theatre. Hopefully it will do the same for many others this time around.

Photos: Jim Lee

This review was published on Theatre People on 30 May 2012.

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