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New Theatre Oxford

The musical Annie is good fun. It may not be among the very greatest American musicals, but if it is of the second rank, it is at the very top of that second rank. Inspired by a comic strip that ran for decades in the US newspapers and dealt quite vigorously at times with contemporary issues during the Depression and second World War, the book of the musical may be a somewhat diluted version of the comic strip Little Orphan Annie but it certainly pays tribute to the political and sociological concerns of the strip and incorporates not a few of the characters and tropes, including Annie’s dog Sandy. This new production is utterly faithful to the original musical and a winner.

The fanciful sets and accurate period costumes by Colin Richmond are colourful and evocative of the period in which the tale is set and the choreography by Nick Winston, especially for the children, is captivating, energetic and always good to watch. Anita Dobson is well cast in the part of Miss Hannigan, except that she rather tends to overdo and overegg the mugging. If she would calm down a bit she would be more effective and also rather more touching. Indeed, all the casting is spot on in this production. Alex Bourne is especially strong and convincing as Daddy Warbucks (who was bald in the comic strip too!) and has the voice and acting skills that are needed, and Carolyn Maitland is winning and very watchable as Grace and she has a lovely voice. I wish that the director, Nikolai Foster had brought out a little more clearly through stage action the attraction she feels all along to Daddy Warbucks (who earned his bucks during World War I) but all in all Foster does a completely splendid job.

All the children are simply terrific, very talented and very well drilled in their routines. I saw Taziva-Faye Katsande as Annie the night I went and liked her a lot. I just wish, once again, that the X-Factor style of forced-voice nasal singing were not so prominent. The show is miked. You don’t have to force or shout to be heard. Indeed, one of the real joys of Alex Bourne’s Daddy Warbucks was that he sang his songs with variety of tone and dynamics and only forced his voice once all evening.

Richard Meek was a memorable Rooster, Gary Davis deserves praise for his three roles, but especially for his Franklin Roosevelt, and George Rae was delightful as both Bert Healy and Ickes. Every member of the cast and crew deserves praise.

What you get here is a revival of the actual original show in terms of text and songs, so I was delighted that it includes the Hooverville sequence and the NYC number in particular and both excellently stage. Alex Bourne did a particularly touching job with the song Something was Missing and there was a real uplift with the I Don’t Need Anything but You number. The excellent score by Charles Strouse and the catchy lyrics by Martin Charnin were well served and I was reminded how really memorable the songs of this show are.

This is an old fashioned Broadway musical but it is by no means negligible. And this is a really strong rendering of the material in a production that is definitely worth a visit.

  • Musical
  • Book by Thomas Meehan
  • Directed by Nikolai Foster
  • Music by Charles Strouse
  • Lyrics by Martin Charnin
  • Choreography by Nick Winston
  • Cast includes: Anita Dobson, Alex Bourne, Taziva-Faye Katsande, Carolyn Maitland, Richard Meek, George Rae
  • New Theatre Oxford
  • Until 9 March 2019

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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