It is always a treat to see a Centrestage Youth production and Annie is no exception. With a ‘chorus’ of 49 girls and boys, in addition to the 21 characters named in the programme, it is frankly impossible to select any individuals for extra praise, which is fortunate because the entire cast operate brilliantly as an ensemble.
This is massively to the credit of directors, William Ross-Jones and Mike Mullen, and the choreographers, Kiera Moorhouse and Ashley Sheath. 99.9% of the ensemble look like they know exactly where they are meant to be and what they are meant to be doing 99.9% of the time. This is no mean feat to achieve with a large adult cast, let alone a cast aged 8 – 18. The orphans in particular are well into their roles, particularly the irrepressible Molly (Anna Pearce-Williams). Chorus numbers are delivered with gusto and clear enjoyment, especially Hard Knock Life and the closing number,New Deal for Christmas.
Annie asks a lot of its heroine as she has one of the most iconic numbers of ‘children’s’ musicals in Tomorrow. Lily Rochford, in her first major role, shows herself more than up to the task. Opening the show with Maybe (not the easiest song) she shows her ability to sing and act. She also has the job of working not only with children but with an animal, Milo (Sandy) in his slightly reluctant debut. All credit to Lily for singing straight out to the audience while surreptitiously palming dog treats from pocket to pup and keeping a firm hand on the leash!
For anyone who doesn’t know the story (apparently this is possible), Annie is left at an orphanage as a baby, with a note promising that her parents would return for her. This makes her different to the other orphans, as she has hope. The orphanage is run by Miss Hannigan (a great performance from Danniella Green in her first show for CPYT) who reveals how much she hates her charges in Little Girls and she longs to make it to Easy Street. Both of these numbers are delivered by Danniella with humour and a maturity belying her years. Easy Street is an entertaining comic trio with Rooster Hannigan (Sam Archer-Scott) and Lily St Regis (Immie Crabtree).
When the secretary to billionaire Mr Warbucks arrives to select an orphan to join his household for Christmas, Annie enchants Grace Farrell (Ciara Harman in another nicely controlled and mature performance) and goes back to the Warbucks mansion. Warbucks (Karcsi Wright, occasionally a little hesitant), expecting a boy, is initially reluctant but comes to love Annie.
Other highlights are the Roosevelt cabinet, (led by Hayden Deadman as Roosevelt) harmonising Tomorrow and the Boylan Sisters (Holly Standfield, Jessie Love and Millie Harrison), You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile.
This is a show with several locations and the stage manager (Alan Pawley) and backstage crew are to be congratulated on changing the well-designed pieces of scenery with minimal fuss. Sound and lighting are effective, although there are minor issues with hearing a few characters, particularly Roosevelt, but to mention this is picky considering the issues of getting the levels right for such a large cast.
Amazingly, hidden somewhere is an excellent 20-strong band, led by musical director Nigel Finch.
This show is huge fun and is highly recommended, if you can get there. It runs for three more performances.