‘Annie’ was uplifting.
There are few tales of finding the place where you belong more iconic than ‘Annie’ – the story of a little red-haired orphan girl, desperately seeking her family and finding instead a new father figure. It makes for a wonderfully unlikely musical, chock full of child-like dreaming and hope. Queensland Musical Theatre has put to stage a charming and heartfelt incarnation that is sure to thaw a smile out of even the most stoic Warbucksesque audience member.
Direction by Deian Ping was generally cohesive and embraced the fun, zany nature of the production. Ping made good use of a minimalistic set that, complemented by projected backgrounds, gave creative nods to the many locations Annie finds herself visiting.
Despite the cast being fresh out of tech and energy being on the lower side for opening night. The show will no doubt tighten as the ensemble finds their feet as larger enthusiastic audiences embrace this classic. Additionally, considering the sparse nature of the set design, scene changes took a little longer than expected.
Julianne Burke’s choreography was a lovely blend of simple and stylish. Of particular note was her choreography with the orphans, where the youthful cast sprang to life, and it felt as though the show really took off. Burke’s work with the chorus was thoroughly rehearsed, especially during the bigger production numbers like “N.Y.C”, and she allowed more capable dancers to showcase their talent, all while never leaving anyone out. Particularly charming was some of the partner work done throughout, which added pops of vitality and kept the dance numbers feeling fresh.
Musical Direction by Trenton Dunstan was solid and clearly showed the huge amount of work that had gone into getting the harmonies clean and in sync. The soloists were all well-rehearsed and Dunstan found ways to make even the most famous song, “Tomorrow”, feel new and vibrant. The balance of sound between the orchestra and the singers was of an excellent standard. There were points where the music dragged a little, rather than lifting the energy of the production, but the gorgeous orchestra and the impressive sound of the full ensemble delighted nonetheless.
Jade Kelly, the Annie of the “Astoria Cast”, was perfection. Her vocals were stunning, keeping the well-known score energetic as her voice rang out and sang of a better “Tomorrow”. Kelly made this production the success that it was. Her interactions with the rest of the cast were perfect, and she brought the audience into the world of the production, letting us see through the eyes of a hopeful child. A skill not usually possessed by one so young, Kelly is definitely one to watch.
As tormentor Miss Hannigan, Lisa Mellor brought some big vocals and plenty of sass to the role. Her work with the children, in particular, Tia Godbold who was an absolute delight as a loud-mouthed orphan, was as acidic as battery acid. While young for the role, Mellor added vibrancy to Hannigan that is not often seen in many of the world-weary portrayals. This made her attention to the children sometimes more horrible in her lollipop sweetness.
As stern, but heartfelt Daddy Warbucks, Nathaniel Currie shone. His interactions with Kelly’s Annie were beautiful and he neatly underplayed the pain Warbucks feels at the thought of losing his newfound family. Currie is a veteran of the role and handled both the vocals – including the gorgeous “Why Should I Change A Thing” which was added for Warlow in the 2011 Australian tour – and acting with aplomb. For all of his charm and sweetness, it was the cutthroat businessman that never really left attitude that was the most fascinating detail of his performance, and it is to his credit that it never totally disappeared.
Long-suffering but omniscient Executive Assistant Grace Farrell (Abby Page) was a neat foil to Warbucks bluster and pushiness. She was sweet and kind, but Page also brought an edge to her, appropriate for someone who is used to rubbing shoulders with the most powerful people in the country. Page’s work with Kelly was delightful. The care and caution she showed for the child was spot on, and her vocals were sublime.
Darcy Rhodes’ Rooster Hannigan was skin-crawlingly good. His mannerisms and physicality were perfect and he oozed energy and commitment in every moment he was onstage. The little lip lick that he added at random moments, including during dance numbers was nauseating and totally character appropriate. Vocally he also delivered with big energy, and his work in songs like “Easy Street” (with Mellor and Ellen Axford’s Lily St Regis) was easily a show highlight. The sheer energy that the three exuded was a treat to watch.
The adult chorus took the stage in a dizzying number of roles and presented some wonderful vocal work and dances. It is always pleasing to see some of Queensland Musical Theatre’s stalwarts onstage supporting the younger performers, such as Neil Ballment as the commanding Roosevelt, and Robert Carr, Ros Booth, and Rachael Leanne Clements as the heads of Warbuck’s household staff. Honourable mentions should also go to Jorgia Munroe as Star-To-Be, Melina Bentzen, Tahnee Gardiner, and Emily Rohweder as the Boylan Sister and of course, Bella as Sandy – Annie’s pooch sidekick.
‘Annie’ was full of dazzling wonders and eternal optimism that one can only get by looking at the world through the eyes of a child. There was so much to enjoy about this production, and it was a shame that it was only on stage for one weekend.
For ticketing and other information about the rest of Queensland Musical Theatre’s season visit https://www.queenslandmusicaltheatre.com.