As Miss Hannigan might say – ‘let’s cut to the chase!’ This family friendly production of the timeless strawberry blonde orphan Annie is a triumph. Playing to a diverse audience, with all the generations covered, highlights are aplenty at the Cape Town production currently running at the Artscape Theatre. Annie boasts with everything a musical theatre lover could demand including super tight singing, taut choreography, eye-catching costuming and creative set design.
It is not unfair to say that a lot of the success of Annie relies on the portrayal of ‘Miss Hannigan’. Charon Williams-Ross comes out with guns blazing while living up to the comedic demands of the role. Williams-Ross paints her viper-tongued Miss Hannigan with the sass, wit and drunken delight of a modern day Baby Jane Hudson. She is clever enough to rely on her acting strengths, leaving the choreography duties to Rooster and Lily. Stephen Jubber and Delgray Halgryn shine as Rooster and his leggy flapper cohort, Lily. The duo’s poise, rhythm and movement play off with aplomb and comic slyness. It’s a truly jovial number when the trio sings ‘Easy Street’ as they concoct a way of exploiting Annie’s newfound freedom for monetary aims.
In the titular role Lilla Fleischmann, one of the three Annies for the Cape Town season, performs with a powerful confidence and sings with pitch-perfect clarity. Fleischmann comes very close to matching the perfect Annie recipe: a splash of mischief and cheeky one-liners, a hint of charm, a decent measure of dancing – but most of all, a healthy dose of beautifully-controlled vocals, especially on signature song ‘Tomorrow’. She constantly remains in character and it’s a careful line to walk, but the young Fleischmann nails it perfectly. The supporting Orphans bring the house down with their exuberant reprise of ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile’ and ‘Hard Knock Life’.
But a musical requires extra-heightened performances to weave it together tightly. A central figure here is Oliver Warbucks, Annie’s billionaire patron who eventually morphs into her adoptive father. Although the development of their relationship is not expanded enough, Neels Claasen is suitably authoritarian and commanding when he needed, yet soft-centred as the plot unfolds. His endearing lyrical rendition of ‘Something was Missing’ effected the vulnerability and affection of the strong-minded troubled billionaire. And Mike Huff sends the crowd into jubilant laughter as President Roosevelt with his fabulous accent and timely delivery of lines. We cannot ignore Taryn Sudding who is perfectly cast as Warbucks’ glamorous secretary and brims with well-paced 30’s composure. And while the ensemble cast moved together cohesively, the pint-sized Cat Lane’s solo sequence is exceedingly memorable.
Nickolai Foster’s precise direction for ‘Annie’ proves he is perfectly capable to pull off such a large scale production. Foster is able to deftly amplify every minute detail, and headlines a flow of different mediums including lighting, choreography and set design with effortless precision. He also fragments memorable sequences of ‘Matilda’, ‘Madeleine’ and ‘A Star is Born’ throughout the production. Nick Winston’s choreography is thrilling, and tightly performed by an impressive ensemble of dancers. And while Colin Richmond’s costuming is more attuned to the period setting, his set design doesn’t steer into the obvious route to drench each scene in opulent Art Deco nuances. Richmond’s direction opens with a permanent jigsaw display frame in acid greens which alludes to Annie’s jumbled up journey. The lighting design of Ben Cracknell works brilliantly and succeeds in creating charmingly fairy-tale-like sequences.
This production of Annie delivers a refreshing energy to an old-fashioned tale while at the same time paying homage to the glory days of great chocolate box-style theatre productions. Hats off to producers Pieter Toerien and Hazel Feldman – they have brought together a fantastic cast and crew who above all else just look like they’re enjoying every minute up there.
Recently we have been inundated by gloomy current affairs. What better way to ditch the darkness than with a stirring, razzmatazz dose of Annie, a warm-hearted Christmas musical designed to clear away the cobwebs and the sorrow.
Benn Van Der Westhuizen
Annie is running at the Artscape Theatre, Cape Town from 6 December 2016 until 8 January 2017.