Review: Annie, the musical, at the Assembly Hall

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My nearly nine-year-old is an Annie aficionado. She’s watched all three movies, bought the soundtrack, learnt the lyrics and perfected the art of feisty back-chat that would make our heroines in the orphanage proud.

So she made the perfect companion and critic when I went to see Annie at The Assembly Hall, last night, on the first show of its five-day run in Tunbridge Wells. In case you don’t know the story, it’s set in the time of the Great Depression in New York City after the stock market crash of 1929 (yes, I had to look that up) and follows the fortunes of Annie, a tough-girl orphan, cared for (or not as it turns out) by the child-hating Miss Hannigan.

Did my Mini Muddy like it? You can Bet Your Bottom Dollar she did!

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I enjoyed it too, although for entirely different reasons. I was keen to see how Lesley Joseph fared as Miss Hannigan with big shoes to fill (literally) because it’s a role she shares on tour with, amongst others, Craig Revel Horwood (who the press are fascinated with of course and apparently did a great job). But Lesley more than rose to the occasion – managing to portray a character that you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for, despite her Dickensian cruelty. And, for a lady who’s turning 70 this year, she’s got some moves – it was clear she was really enjoying herself as she strutted her stuff while belting out Easy Street. What she really brought to the character though, was brilliant comic timing. When she delivered the line: ‘Argh, I hate Annie so much it’s like she’s my own daughter!’ I realised I laughed a little too long and too hard considering I was actually sat right next to mine.

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The rest of the cast was incredible too. Elise Blake (dipping in and out of playing Annie this week – but apparently all the girls are amazing), is insanely talented and her performance was absolutely flawless. It came as no surprise when I learnt she’s already appeared in Les Mis and played the lead in Matilda the Musical. At the tender age of 11, she made singing while twirling around a packed dance floor look so easy – and I have several ankle injuries that are testament to the fact it isn’t!

While we’re on the subject of dancing, if you love a slickly choreographed routine there was bucket-loads here – all polished to perfection,  including a stunning tap sequence or two. The set was also pretty spectacular and the plot remained true to its political roots (the original Broadway musical was based on a satirical newspaper strip, Little Orphan Annie) without losing the interest of more than half the audience.

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Is this worth the money? Yes, definitely. If you’re a big old cynic, with a built-in aversion to fromage, then my guess is you’re probably not crazy about high-octane musicals anyway. But in fairness this is not an over-sentimental version of the story – it’s gritty in places and has lots of good old fight-the-system, boot-stomping action, which I always enjoy (except when it happens in my house, oh, say around bath/bedtime).

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Having said all that I’m not such a die-hard musical fan that I’d go and see this without my Mini Muddy in tow. It really is a show for kids. And here, I’d like to get sort of, just a teensy weensy bit serious for a second. Here’s another reason to catch this show. Unlike most of the sassy-mouthed, image-obsessed TV characters bombarding my Mini Muddy’s impressionable young brain on a daily basis, Annie is actually a young heroine I like. Yes, she sticks out her chin and stamps her foot at tyrannical Miss Hannigan, but to everybody else she’s polite and optimistic. She can stand up to bullies and possesses a strong and natural sense of justice. Oh and she loves dogs (yes, a real dog, called Amber, plays Sandy in the show – do not shout her name out in the middle of the performance!). So there is at least something of a backbone to this musical.

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To sum up, if you’ve been toying with the idea of nabbing some last minute tickets I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. When to go? Well there’s still one or two seats available for tonight’s show. Otherwise, tomorrow or Saturday. Altogether now, ‘Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow…’

Sorrrrry.

Annie plays at the Assembly Hall Theatre, until Sat 5 Mar 2016. Tickets can be bought here and cost £28.50 – £38.50.

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