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Annie Jr (Hampton Hill Blue)

by on 25 June 2021

An Enthusiastic Return

Annie Jr.

music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin

Dramacube, Hampton Hill Blue Cast at Hampton Hill Theatre until 26th June

Review by Celia Bard

The feeling I experienced when walking through the doors of Hampton Hill Theatre was quite emotional for it was fifteen months or so since last setting foot in a theatre due to that very vicious tiny virus who shall remain nameless.  In many ways it was appropriate that the production I was about to see was Annie Jr, produced by Dramacube.  Cast memories back to March 2020 when this production had been ready to go: the stage had been set, lines learned, tickets sold and then ‘lockdown’ immediately prior the opening performance.  Everything was frozen, not even the stage could be struck.  How disappointing this must have been for all concerned: how fitting it is that the first production now being shown at Hampton Hill Theatre is that same musical, Annie Jnr.

Though still not quite out of the woods, the magic started immediately I entered the auditorium and took my seat, wearing the obligatory mask.  This after having provided a name and phone number, had my temperature taken and sanitized my hands.  Despite being a huge fan of musicals I’ve never seen the production of Annie on the stage.  Annie Jnr didn’t disappoint, capturing much of the amusement and charm of the story, supported by an enthusiastic and capable young cast. 

The action is set in the 1930s and tells the story of a young orphan girl, Annie, who is fated to live in an austere and depressing orphanage under the evil headship of Miss Hannigan.  Annie’s life changes drastically when she is given opportunity to spend two weeks in the home of the wealthy billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, who wants to adopt her.   Like all fairy tales the happy ending isn’t immediate and Annie and Oliver Warbucks, with the aid of the police, have to overcome fiendish plans dreamed up by Miss Hannigan and her partners in crime, Rooster and Lily, who try to scupper everything.

The success of the production is helped by the impressive stage set which provides three distinct acting areas: the dormitory; Miss Harrigan’s office; Oliver Warbucks’ house.  On the backcloth is projected an image of 1930s Brooklyn that effectively establishes the period of the musical.  Wardrobe and costume succeed in achieving a ragged look for the orphans whilst other characters are dressed in suitable attire.   However, one niggling issue is the hairstyles of many of the characters, too modern.  Miss Hannigan played by Lottie Azurdia-Latter gives a superb performance.  She has a strong personality, great vocal projection, combining a very good singing voice with a strong vocal range.  However, her appearance is too similar to that of the orphans.  This could have been overcome by having her hair taken back to give her a more severe look.  Likewise her clothes needed to look more severe.  Similar criticisms are aimed at the two performers who played Annie, and some of the orphan children.  Greater authenticity could have been achieved if hair had been plaited or divided into bunches.

The songs in this musical are memorable, sung by this cast of young performers with great enthusiasm.  The balance between the orchestration and the singers was good, and the main characters were well supported by a very strong, enthusiastic ensemble.  The singing was always tuneful, songs were well delivered, and it was great to see the level of attention given to characterisation by these young performers.  The choreography was creative, and the blocking succeeded in achieving pleasing stage pictures.  The production is not without humour as exampled by the small orphan, played by Grace O’Hara, being knocked into the basket, wonderful timing … lovely little cameo role. 

This production was without doubt a massive enterprise with four different casts.  On the night I attended, Annie was played by two young performers, Leila Simpson (1) and Scarlett Simpson (2).   It is always difficult having two actors playing the same part, especially for the second Annie having to follow the first Annie who has already developed the character.  Both performers were confident, delivered their musical numbers with self-assurance and interacted convincingly with other characters.

The character, Oliver Warbucks played by Mia Cousins, acted the role of the kindly and generous billionaire with conviction.  Finn Bralow was full of mischief, as ‘Rooster’ Hanningan, forming a superb partner-in-crime act with Lilly St.  Regis, played by Matilda Cox.  Their number Easy Street with Miss Hannigan as the third member of the trio, received rapturous applause from an appreciative audience.   Eirynn Sealy sparkled as the radio announcer, as much as her costume did.  Grace Farrell who played Abigail Eggleton did so with great ease and confidence.  Her stage presence is very convincing.

Steve Leslie and his team must be commended for bringing this production all together in nine weeks.  I must admit to feeling disappointment that this great cast of young performers were not able to share their talents with a full audience, but their performances and their musical numbers delighted all those who were present.   

Celia Bard, June 2021

Photography by Bomi Cooper

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