Saturday, 17 May 2014

Annie - Koorliny Arts Centre (17 May 2014)

Musical theatre is such an educational medium. For example, I was unaware that it was a redheaded orphan who was the inspiration for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression – the New Deal - in the 1930’s! Of course, Annie is one of those quintessential stories, like Forrest Gump, that celebrates that most idealistic of cultural phenomena, the American Dream.

Here, an eleven year old girl searching for her parents is saved from a bleak existence in an orphanage by a billionaire and gets to meet the President of the United States before eventually being adopted by said billionaire after learning her parents are dead. At Christmas time no less to add another layer to the fairy tale. I’m not sure such a story could be set anywhere else but America.

Putting aside the cultural peculiarities, Annie is full of great songs and optimism, best symbolised by the song ‘Tomorrow’, a rendition of which prompts Roosevelt’s unlikely epiphany.  

None of this works without a young performer who can pull off the eponymous role. In Christie McGarrity director Katherine Freind has certainly found her Annie. She gives an assured performance that belies her age with a strong voice that handles Annie’s showcase numbers, including the iconic Tomorrow, with aplomb.

Annie’s nemesis is Mrs. Hannigan (Val Henry) who runs the orphanage and has a strong dislike for the feisty girl. Henry treads the fine line between what passes for a villain in this tale and comic relief nicely. The orphanage is populated by a whole raft of girls and their interactions are a true delight.

Into this world steps Grace (Kimberley Harris) representing the billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Chris Gerrish) who is looking to host an orphan for two weeks leading up to Christmas. She insists on picking Annie much to Mrs. Hannigan’s annoyance and Warbucks’ surprise as he was expecting a boy. Harris has the standout singing voice and plays the dutiful assistant well. Gerrish is great as ‘Daddy’ Warbucks and has good chemistry with McGarrity. Warbucks sets out to find Annie’s parents and enlists Elliot Ness and the FBI along with a little help from the President (Andrew Hislop) who is charmed by Annie.  

When Warbucks offers $50,000 for Annie’s parents to come forward his staff is inundated with claimants including Hannigan’s con artist brother Rooster (Joshua Munroe) and his needy girlfriend Lily (Georgia McGivern) who want to be on “easy street”. Things look bleak but their plot is foiled and everyone celebrates Christmas with a song and a smile.

This is a big production with a large cast and a very impressive set. The opening scenes in the orphanage and on the streets of New York are set in the front half of the stage with stage curtains as a backdrop. When those curtains are opened they reveal a wonderfully appointed, multi-level set representing Warbucks’ mansion. The lighting is very good as are the costumes. In fact this is perhaps the most impressive looking production I have seen at Koorliny.

The penultimate show, today’s matinee, drew quite a crowd and it was fantastic to see so many children in the audience. It would be remiss of me not to mention crowd favourite Sandy, a character of the four legged variety played by ‘Dijaan Rhodes’ but the biggest applause of the afternoon was reserved for Christie McGarrity who is set for quite the future on this outing.

Directed by Katherine Freind, Musical Direction by Justin Freind and Choreography by Sue Cunnell with a cast of 57 (and 1 dog) listed in the programme, Annie was an enjoyable afternoon’s entertainment that was well received by the audience. 

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