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21st September 2023

Annie review: A fab-u-lous family spectacular

Annie sweeps Manchester off its feet with song, sass, and dreams. But act fast: by ‘Tomorrow’, tickets might be gone!
Annie review: A fab-u-lous family spectacular
Photo: Annie @ ATG

It’s time to bet your bottom dollars as Annie has arrived in Manchester, dazzling its audiences with the glitz of the American dream.

Annie follows the story of a red-haired orphan girl named Annie (Sharangi Gnanavarathan) in pursuit of her parents despite being left at the world’s cruellest orphanage with the cold-hearted Miss Hannigan (Craig Revel-Horwood). However, her life changes drastically as she is taken in by billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Alex Bourne) and his assistant Grace Farrell (Amelia Adams) who treat her like family, making Annie question whether finding her real parents is more important than being with her new family.

Despite its heavy associations with the 1920s and the period known as the great depression, the original concept for Annie came from an 1885 poem written by James Whitcomb Riley which was renamed and misprinted, eventually giving us the Annie we all know today. By 1924 Annie was featured in her own comic strip created by Harold Gray where it continued pumping out politics until 2010. Then followed a string of movies, radio shows, and in 1977, the musical was finally produced for the first time before later revivals like the one today.

The show began in a dismal-looking orphanage with cobbled-together beds, children wearing tattered clothing and rags, and a backdrop of broken jigsaw pieces and scrawlings, seemingly representing Annie’s search for an identity. Immediately, the audience is transported to this ‘Hard knock life’ in a well-choreographed and enthusiastically sung sequence expressing their frustration with the orphanage and its manager Miss Hannigan.

Miss Hannigan had to be the best character by far, no doubt aided by the gorgeous vocal abilities and comedic (often drunken or flirtatious) antics of Craig Revel-Horwood. His embodiment of a character haunted by the ‘little girls’ around her and drowning her misery with a fridge overstocked with gin was so playful and sassy that it was probably my favourite version of that character. Additionally, the heartless way she treats Annie and the orphans in pursuit of ‘Easy Street’ is both villainous and strangely hilarious at the same time, since we get to see the lengths a narcissistic woman would go to for money.

Grace Farrell (Amelia Adams) was another amazing character who juxtaposed Miss Hannigan in every way, from her tidy hair and cute costumes to her kind-hearted demeanour and silky voice in songs like ‘I think I’m gonna like it here’, accompanying Annie and an ensemble of overly-enthusiastic servants in describing the many wonders and activities available in the golden doored Warbucks mansion.

Ironically, I had completely forgotten about Annie even having animals in it until the cutest golden-coated dog was embraced in the cold New York streets. Despite having very little presence in the show, the audience was treated with glimpses of him as he ran across the stage between acts, stealing the show in the most adorable way!

Of course, we can’t forget about Annie herself, played by Sharangi Gnanavarathan in this performance, who represented our favourite young character perfectly; despite the immensity and difficulty of earworm songs like ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile’.

Unfortunately, I’d say the show’s only limitations were its American humour and political values which often went on deaf ears. A show like Annie is about the American Dream as a young orphan rises from rags to gold in her new life set against the backdrop of New York in the Great Depression- the most American concept conceivable. Whilst this makes for an excellent story, many of the jokes are aimed at an audience that would know this political background, sprinkling inside-jokes about democrats and references to new deals and the capitalist empire that were often unappreciated by a non-American family-filled audience. Perhaps an adaptation of some of the jokes for a British audience would have been a beneficial addition to this show’s script.

Despite this criticism, the show was an amazing peek into 1920s New York and a fun-filled family-friendly experience which I could not fault. Whilst small sections were cut, like Oliver Warbucks’ initial hesitations about Annie, and the kidnapping of Annie by her fake parents, it all acted in the show’s best interests as it created more authentic, intellectual, and likable characters. The costumes felt authentic to the era and seamlessly displayed class divides. The staging was simple yet effectively transported the audience to different locations across New York and the cast was incredible in every aspect.

Annie is truly a wonderful show for all the family to enjoy, but make sure to grab your tickets soon, or they will be gone by ‘Tomorrow’!

Annie will be at the Manchester Opera House until 30 September where it will continue on its UK tour before ending in November 2023.

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