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Electric performances rescue Annie from a pool of sentimental mush

PUBLISHED: 13:31 06 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:00 06 November 2019

Lesley Joseph as Miss Hannigan with Annie and Sandy in the new production of Annie, now at the Ipswich Regent. Photo: Matt Crockett

Lesley Joseph as Miss Hannigan with Annie and Sandy in the new production of Annie, now at the Ipswich Regent. Photo: Matt Crockett

HUGO GLENDINNING

Annie is a musical theatre classic but is this story of a plucky orphan girl from the 1930s reaching the end of its natural life?

Annie, the musical about a feisty red-haired orphan girl, shares many traits with Charles Dickens Oliver Twist and provides an equally uplifting ending Photo: Ipswich RegentAnnie, the musical about a feisty red-haired orphan girl, shares many traits with Charles Dickens Oliver Twist and provides an equally uplifting ending Photo: Ipswich Regent

Review: Annie, by Thomas Meehan, Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse, Ipswich Regent, until November 9

While there is much to admire about the highly polished performances on display, you cannot escape the feeling that, when compared to the feisty and sophisticated Matilda, the mawkish Annie has finally reached its sell-by date.

As a show, it feels that it is drowning you in a sea of very American, sentimental slush, which is totally unlike the sharp, very politically aware shows which are coming out of Broadway today. The story is embarrassingly slight, which stops completely at one point to provide the audience with a song and dance routine set on a 1930s radio show, which has no bearing on the plot whatsoever.

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In a nutshell, Annie is a female version of Dickens' Oliver Twist - but without any sense of jeopardy. Annie is rescued from a bleak and uncaring orphanage by Daddy Warbucks, a billionaire businessman, who decides (on a whim) to have an orphan to stay for Christmas.

Annie being Annie charms the tough-talking entrepreneur and during a search for Annie's parents - which involves calling in favours from J Edgar Hoover and the FBI, and turning up at President Roosevelt's Brains Trust - Warbucks, the sensible businessman, has his tough heart melted by the little tyke.

Having found the show itself rather old-fashioned and limited, I have to say the performances in this production were terrific. Mia Lakha was wonderfully engaging as Annie, you really rooted for her, while Lesley Joseph gleefully sinks her teeth into the role of Miss Hannigan, the awful, drunken, matron of the orphanage who hates her young charges with a passion and reserves some special poisoned resentment for the cheerful Annie.

The show sparks into life when Joseph is on stage and she is totally in command of every scene she is in. Alex Bourne makes for a kind and gentle Daddy Warbucks while Carolyn Maitland shines in a quieter, but no less, important role as Warbucks PA and Annie's grown-up friend. Maitland's seemingly sweet Miss Farrell displays some satisfying inner steel in a showdown with Miss Hannigan over Annie's adoption papers.

Annie, the musical about a feisty red-haired orphan girl, shares many traits with Charles Dickens Oliver Twist and provides an equally uplifting ending Photo: Ipswich RegentAnnie, the musical about a feisty red-haired orphan girl, shares many traits with Charles Dickens Oliver Twist and provides an equally uplifting ending Photo: Ipswich Regent

Hit songs like Tomorrow, Easy Street, Hard Knock Life and I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here earned some huge rounds of applause and were powerfully delivered but Annie remains a curious mix of sentimental storytelling and a simplistic history lesson about the Wall Street Crash and the President Roosevelt's New Deal. Though it has to be said that the Hooverville number was impressively staged.

Although Annie may be coming to the end of its natural life, this current production is delivered with a lot of verve and some wonderful performances, which, if truth be told, are much better than the aged script warrants.

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