Venue: ARTS Theatre, Angas Street, Adelaide
Duration: 2hrs 40min incl interval
Set in 1933 this popular 1977 Broadway musical is based on the long running comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, by Harold Gray (1894-1968). Annie was left at an orphanage by her parents when she was only a baby, with a note that said that they would return to collect her. She is now eleven years of age and is, optimistically, still waiting for their return. The feisty young redhead's arch-enemy is the alcoholic Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage where Annie and many other little girls are bullied and mistreated by her.
When the billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, send his assistant, Grace Farrell, to bring an orphan into his home for two weeks at Christmas she selects Annie, much to Miss Hannigan's chagrin. Warbucks is enchanted by Annie and plans to adopt her, until she says that the only present that she wants for Christmas is to be reunited with her parents. When Warbucks tries to find Annie's parents, offering a large sum of money to them if they come forward, Miss Hannigan's crooked brother 'Rooster' and his girlfriend, Lily St. Regis, armed with intimate information about Annie that Miss Hannigan has given them, appear in disguise to claim Annie and the money.
Director, Nadine Wood, Musical Director, Deborah Brennan, and Choreographer, Lauren Dempsey took on a daunting task and accomplished great things. This production was put together in only ten days and featured a huge cast and a live orchestra. Each of the major characters has two people cast in the role, alternating with one another at each performance. All of the adult roles, except for 'Daddy' Warbucks, are played by young people, well below the stage age of their characters. This all adds extra difficulties. The set was smart and made excellent use of projected scenes to allow fast set changes and the costumes looked the part, too.
Annie was played, on the night that I attended, by Lauren Esposito, who was a real bundle of energy, ideally suiting the character. She gave Annie a sense of playful fun, as well as handling the moments of pathos beautifully. Her solos were delightfully sung and made the role her own.
Miss Hannigan was played by Naomi Crosby, who engaged in enormous amounts of physical comedy, generating equally enormous bouts of laughter. Her comic timing is spot on and she sings wonderfully, too. She is one to watch.
Oliver 'Daddy' Warbucks was played by one of Adelaide audiences favourite performers, Adam Goodburn, who brought just the right blend of the emotionally remote, hard-working and efficient billionaire with widespread political influence and the lonely bachelor, who unexpectedly discovers his humanity again through the beguiling influence of Annie. Goodburn convincingly conveys the change from this cold businessman to a warm and loving step-father. This was another satisfying performance, showing why he is so popular.
Madeleine Russell played his secretary, Grace Farrell, with loads of warmth, charm, a nicely measured degree of sympathy and support, and a neatly underplayed indication that her interest in him and his welfare was rather more than that of an employee to an employer.
Buddy Dawson, as 'Rooster', and Tahlia Fantone, as Lily St. Regis, are a great double act as the conniving confidence tricksters, driving each other along at a great pace and, when joined by Naomi Crosby for the Easy Street number, the three brought the house down.
There was equally good work from all of those in the minor roles, far too many too mention individually, and also from the huge chorus. The big numbers, with the entire ensemble singing and dancing with unbridled enthusiasm, were amazing and drew plenty of applause.
Unfortunately, this production only ran for a few performances and is already concluded. Such a pity that it could not have run for another week, so that many more people could have had the enjoyment of seeing it.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.