On a night of grim news, it was good to escape the bulletins and go see a show which is about one thing: pure, unalloyed optimism.
Annie, by York Musical Theatre Company
Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York
Till Sat Mar 25
At face value, Annie is the story of an orphan who finds a family. But in truth it’s about America recovering from the poverty and misery that followed the Wall Street Crash.
When little orphan Annie single-handedly inspires President Roosevelt to launch the New Deal that revitalised the country’s fortunes, you can’t help think of the current presidency.
If the prospect of four years of The Donald in the White House fills you with foreboding, remember: “Just thinkin’ about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow – till there’s none…”
Tomorrow is a wonderful tune and the showstopper of Annie. It is reprised several times in this York Musical Theatre Company production, and delivered each time with power and precision. When Annie leads all the president’s men in a chorus filled with powerful harmonies, it is impossible not to feel cheered.
Energy and verve
This is a production filled with brilliant performances. We have Kathryn Addison in lusty ‘tough broad’ mode as she fails to control her orphans (with blasts on her whistle shrill enough to knock your glasses off).
Teaming up with her slimy brother Rooster (Matthew Ainsworth) and his dumb blonde companion Lily (Anna Mitchelson), they perform a terrific rendition of Easy Street.
Richard Bainbridge makes for a likeable, big-hearted Daddy Warbucks and his secretary Grace Farrell (Toni Feetenby) plays a tricky, but pivotal, role with – well, grace.
But the real stars of the show are the girls. The auditorium crackled with their energy and verve, whether doing a brilliant rendition of Hard-Knock Life or running rings around the hip-flask swigging Mrs Hannigan.
There are two sets of orphans who appear on alternate nights. We saw Tiggy Owen-Smith as Molly, Faye Stainton (Pepper), Hannah Wakelam (Duffy), Charlotte Marshall (July), Evangeline Dillon (Tessie), Mollie Booth (Kate) and Gabriella Hayton (Swing).
Each on their own is a talent, but taken together they were dynamite.
And at their helm, Annie herself – Kaia Stainton. Kaia owned the role. She simply was Annie, the feisty firecracker whose explosive outbursts mask a deep-lying vulnerability.
Great stagecraft too – in her first performance of Tomorrow, she managed to sing beautifully while clinging on to wayward dog Sandy (played by Barney, with some reluctance it must be said).
The versatility of the supporting cast was epitomised by York stage veteran Malcolm Poole who played a dog-catcher, assistant to the president, radio ventriloquist and judge at various moments.
A brilliant band, led by director/musical director Paul Laidlaw, and some lively, era-perfect choreography from dance captain Anna Mitchelson, made for fully-rounded musical entertainment.
Annie is not wall-to-wall memorable tunes, although there are a few crackers, and the plot is simplicity itself – so a judicious trimming would have benefited an overlong production.
That said it is an uplifting night out which leaves you feeling buoyed about the future. And Lord knows, we need that at the moment.