Annie wins over hearts

The thundering applause and whistles said it all - Annie has still got it. Having to do justice to a musical that was the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Tony Award for Best Musical, can be quite burdensome.

By Anu Prabhakar

Published: Thu 16 Apr 2009, 9:27 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 10:58 PM

But Popular Productions Ltd’s production of Annie at the First Theatre Group, Madinat Jumeirah, managed to dazzle the audience almost instantly right from the first scene at Mrs Hannigan’s squalid orphanage, through Annie’s alternatively soulful and heartbreaking rendition of Maybe, right till the curtain call. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Annie has comforting themes — inherent goodness in man, good’s triumph over evil and not letting go of hope even during the darkest of times. Is it any wonder then that the audience lapped up the musical joyously?

After Annie’s unsuccessful attempt to escape from Mrs Hannigan’s miserable orphanage, Grace Farrell, secretary to billionaire Oliver Warbucks, chooses Annie to spend two weeks at the Warbucks Fifth Avenue mansion, for Christmas holidays. Though Annie thinks she is “gonna like it here”, she dreams of living with her parents. Mr Warbucks vows to find them and begins a search that involves even the President of the United States. A surprise, albeit a sad one, is revealed along the way, complications sorted out and all are merry.

The cast was top notch. Claris Bell, who played Annie (she shares the part with Ella Oberg), reminded those present why Annie remains everyone’s favourite red headed orphan. She is kind, mischievous and free spirited and Claris Bell managed to capture the very essence of the character. Her strong, unwavering voice was perfect for classic songs I Don’t Need Anything But You, Maybe and the popular Tomorrow. Vincent Pirillo as the kind hearted Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks was flawless. Lucy Hunter-James playing the sweet, prim and elegant Grace Farrell did her job well. John Payton as Mrs Hannigan’s conniving younger brother Rooster Hannigan made an excellent villain, and so did Caitlin Hughes, who played his air headed girlfriend, Lily St Regis. Also, the pair seemed to elicit hoots from the audience every time they made an appearance on stage. During the curtain call, the pair received a prolonged applause — something that was denied even to the main characters. It certainly looked like the audience had chosen their favourites! Though James Dinsmore’s role as President Roosevelt was not a lengthy one, he had, what can be easily described, as the best and wittiest lines in the play. A special mention must be made of the furry cast mate Sandy, the dog, who played his part, while the audience gasped and cooed. Marley, listen up!

But my loudest clap was reserved for Amanda Minihan, who played Miss Hannigan. She clearly owned the audience every time she made an entry. Miss Hannigan, in spite of being a hateful character, is still worthy of some sympathy and provides a few good laughs in the play. Amanda seemed to have portrayed Miss Hannigan bearing this complexity in mind. So when Amanda’s Miss Hannigan shares her hatred for children through Little Girls, we forget to frown. Instead, we laugh gaily.

The sets and props were appropriately sparse and opulent according to the scene. The orphanage looked suitably shanty with the orphans living out the ‘hardknock life’ by sharing three beds and the rest sharing the floor. The Warbuck mansion looked grand. The clever use of red and white through the staff members’ uniform, Annie’s signature red dress and the entire setting helped stage the final scene on Christmas Day. The dance moves that accompanied songs were well choreographed and incredibly synchronized. The lighting was commendable, the sound good and the costumes apt – although, greater care could have been taken while dressing up the homeless for an earlier part in the play. They, somehow, did not strike as being poor, partly due to the shiny shoes a couple were spotted wearing.

The next time your boss talks about the ongoing crisis and depressing statistics, it’s fine to feel tempted to jump up on the table and sing Tomorrow, with your palm over the heart. Explain it as the Annie effect, if you must!

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