We are all a bunch of cynics in 2012, and you could perhaps argue that we have good reason to be, considering the state of things in the world today. A crushing global financial crisis. Global warming. The Kardashians. You might think that there isn’t much room left in this unforgiving, pragmatic time for a little orphan who’ll tell you to be grateful for your empty pockets, because “at least you got pockets,” and might mention, once or twice, that the sun is bound to come out tomorrow.
But you’d be wrong. John Frost’s wonderful Annie, which opened at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre last night, is a celebration of love, and hope, in the face of hard times. After all, Annie had to sing about the sun coming up in 1933 New York City (cleverly austere and exciting in turns thanks to innovative scenery and projections by Kenneth Foy), a city gripped by the Great Depression, while she was housed in the particularly grim orphanage run by Miss Hannigan. But while Annie must wait for the sun to come out, we in the audience are never once dark and dreary. Annie is an explosion of joy.
It’s a classic story with a happy ending for our plucky hero, a redheaded orphan who refuses to accept an unhappy life, and a lonely man who has discovered that money doesn’t buy everything. The show is consistently funny and slick, with high-level production values, bouncy choreography, and a particularly swinging band (led by Peter Carey) but it’s Warbucks and Annie’s emotional arcs that keep us tied to the story: the two are each searching for the thing that will make them happiest, and it’s genuinely, unashamedly heart-warming that they find those missing links in each other.
A phenomenal cast is led by legendary performers Anthony Warlow and Nancye Hayes, both Annie veterans; Warlow is reprising his 2000 role of Oliver Warbucks, and Hayes, 1978’s (and Australia’s original) Lily St Regis, was also Resident Director of the 2000 run. Warlow’s Warbucks is gruff, but genuinely kind-hearted, and he truly does have one of the best voices on the world stage. Hayes’ drunk, sardonic Miss Hannigan is broadly comic and in entirely good fun.
Annie herself, played on opening night by Ella Nicol, was bright and infectiously charming; as were all the children – “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Reprise)” is a show-stopper that was greeted with thunderous applause. Little Molly (Jade Gillis) especially lit up the stage with her cheerful cheek and daring. Todd McKenney and Chloe Dallimore are a classic Broadway-style double act with shades of vaudeville as Rooster and Lily, and songbird Julie Goodwin’s Grace is beautiful and polished.
The ensemble is just as strong, and Resident Director Jack Webster’s turn as tap-dancing butler Drake is a perfect example of the joyful exuberance he has cultivated throughout the entire production. The cast is clearly happy to be entertaining you, and you’ll even forget to be cynical, or worry about all those worries you might have tucked away. In fact, you’ll have the time of your hard-knock life.
Twelve weeks only, with openings in Brisbane and Melbourne to follow.