Earlier this month, I woke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, my heart going nineteen to the dozen. I’d been dreaming about Annie and, for reasons known only to my subconscious, my attempt to put on an amateur production of the musical in Canada. In my imagination, I was down to play the lead role, despite being 49 and unable to sing a note. No wonder I was sweating.

But that’s the thing about Annie – it’s unforgettable. The story, the songs, the hope…if you don’t shed a tear during Tomorrow, your heart must be made of stone.

The 1982 film was my introduction to this classic, as it was for my 11-year-old niece who joined me for last night’s press preview at Manchester’s Opera House. In weather conditions that can only be described as apocalyptic, we set out with waterproofs, cagoules and sturdy shoes, properly prepared for a trip into town for a musical set during the Great Depression. 

Annie UK Tour 2023. Photo Paul Coltas.

While it quickly became clear that references to 1930s America were mostly lost on the children in the audience, the energy of the young cast – in particular Sharangi Gnanavarathan as little orphan Annie and Karin Narumi playing perennial favourite, Molly – as well as the sheer quality of the score more than made up for some puzzled faces. I’m willing to bet that most people already knew the plot and were chomping at the bit to bristle at Miss Hannigan, the permanently soused manager of the Hudson Street Orphanage who forces her charges to clean the building and profess their love for her. No doubt the damp Manchester crowd were also ready to cheer on Daddy Warbucks, a billionaire who, after inviting Annie to live with him to improve his public image, decides to adopt her.

If this was panto (and it’s arguable that Craig Revel-Horwood was aiming for a Christmas booking as a dame with his portrayal of Miss Hannigan), then the arrival of the villainous Rooster and his nefarious squeeze Lily, convincingly played by Lukin Simmonds and Billie Kay, would have resulted in a chorus of boos from the auditorium. As it was, we were content to watch their downfall after Daddy Warbucks (a frosty-turns-genial Alex Bourne) unmasked their dastardly attempt to pass themselves off as Annie’s parents and collect a bumper reward. 

Annie UK Tour 2023. Photo by Paul Coltas.

So far, so pretty damn good. I was also delighted to read in the programme that Sandy, a dog rescued by Annie, was being played by Amber, an eight-year-old Labradoodle who was previously the understudy for Spot in Shakespeare in Love at London’s Noël Coward theatre.

Unfortunately, this otherwise entertaining and ultimately heart-warming production was let down by Revel-Horwood. The Strictly Come Dancing judge is the big star of the show but failed to deliver a ten out of ten performance. At times his dialogue seemed muffled, and he regularly turned his back on the audience. While no one is likely to better Carol Burnett who embodied the world-weary, gin-sodden Hannigan in the film, Revel-Horwood was, well, a bit dull. Or, as my niece aptly put it, “not mean enough”. Sorry Revel-Horwood, but it’s a poor score from me.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to leave Annie without a smile on your face and a song in your heart. The classic tunes just kept on coming. Tomorrow? Bang! Little Girls? Kapow! I think I’m Gonna Like It Here? Yes! Easy Street? Wow! I Don’t Need Anything But You? Amazing! Jay-Z sampled It’s a Hard Knock Life, for crying out loud. I don’t know what composer Charles Strouse, lyricist Martin Charnin, and writer Thomas Meehan were on back in 1976 but I’d like some please. 

After the curtain came down, my niece and I tripped out of Manchester’s Opera House humming ‘”The sun’ll come out tomorrow”. And do you know what? The rain had stopped and the cagoule stayed in my bag. I’ll take that. 

By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul

Main image: Annie UK Tour 2023 – Craig Revel Horwood (Miss Hannigan) and Company. Photo by Paul Coltas. 

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Annie is at the Opera House in Manchester until September 30, 2023. For more information, click here.