Bold production values, faultless musical numbers, striking sets – and Miss Hannigan as you’ve never seen her before. This new Annie production, at the Congress Theatre all week, is fresher than Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Annie is endearing and enduring. The show has a huge following, and the Congress audiences are turning up in droves to see their little red-haired heroine sing her way to freedom from the awful orphanage. The score overflows with absolutely cracking songs – Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Maybe, Easy Street, Fully Dressed – and this production gives them full voice.
Sophia Pettit – one of three youngsters who alternate in the title role – is a wonderful, irresistible Annie. Her acting has the confidence to hold the equilibrium with the adult characters, and her beautiful singing has astonishing power.
Alongside her, the orphans switch expertly from sweet and heart-tugging, to confident and answer-back smart.
Alex Bourne’s Daddy Warbucks is skilfully judged, easing from gruff and unfeeling to warm and full of heart, as Annie wins him over. And Holly Dale Spencer, as secretary Grace, is a delightful foil.
Craig Revel Horwood’s portrayal of Miss Hannigan, eagerly awaited, is a surprise. He looks and plays the part down to the last detail and mannerism, but he carefully avoids overacting and turning the role into some glorified pantomime figure. Oh and yes, for Strictly fans, the man can dance: his trio with excellent comic villains Rooster and Lily (Jonny Fines and Djalenga Scott) is fabulous.
Nikolai Foster’s direction is confident, fast-paced and quite driven, without a weak link in the acting, and there are smashing cameos throughout the show: Lewis Bradley is a witty radio host Bert Healy and Callum McArdle is a benign, rich-voiced President Roosevelt. Nick Winston’s choreography is bright, upbeat and exuberantly delivered.
Just as Annie escapes the orphanage, this show is an unashamed escape route from reality, into something much more fun. Monday’s packed first-night audience bought the show wholesale and received it ecstatically. By Kevin Anderson.