UNTIL this evening, the name Waldorf meant a salad and a hotel to me, but now it is also the team name for seven of the girls playing Annie and her fellow orphans in this dynamic and thrilling production of this all-time favourite which spends this week at Bristol as part of a major tour of the country. The big name drawing people in is Craig Revel Horwood, known to many as the wicked judge on Strictly, and to me as director of many actor-musician shows, including many at The Watermill Theatre, Newbury, and a national tour of Fiddler on the Roof two years ago.
Revel Horwood brings his extensive experience of choreography and dance to the role of Miss Hannigan, and plays her, very convincingly, as a woman. This is no “man in a dress” dame role, but pure femininity, from his long stockinged legs plunging floorwards from a revealing teddy to the coloured hair and slightly overdone eye make-up, even his dancing is as feminine as it can be. He is clearly enjoying the role, but is also part of a strong and talented ensemble, every single member of which is just as slick, just as accurate, just as entertaining.
This show, rather like Oliver with the boys, relies heavily on the orphan girls, in this case three teams of seven, including Annie, and named after New York landmarks, Team Roxy, Team Astoria, and tonight’s Team Waldorf. The producers of this tour saw over 2000 girls for these 21 parts, and if the other two teams are just half as good as Team Waldorf then any audience cannot fail to be astounded. These seven girls, with an average age well under 10, were completely together in every dance move and sang as loud and confidently as any West End chorus. They justifiably brought the house down with the big numbers Hard Knock Life and the reprise of Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile, and Annie herself, Sophia Pettit, held her own with all the adult members of the cast, giving an accurate truth and independence to the little orphan girl.
In other key roles, Alex Bourne was every inch the billionaire businessman Warbucks, with a gentle, lyrical singing voice too, and very light on his feet, Holly Dale Spencer captured just the right level of annoying squeakiness as his secretary Grace, Jonny Fines and Djalenga Scott were suitably roguish and ditsy as Rooster and Lily respectively, with talented singing and dancing with Revel Horwood for Easy Street, and Callum McArdle was a gentle and believable, for a musical at least, Franklin D Roosevelt.
This is a great musical, and one which should regularly be revived, as this production was in 2011 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and revisited, with clever additions and design features, such as the setting of tonight’s action within a giant jigsaw puzzle, with different pieces lit separately for different scenes, but the thing which shone through consistently tonight was the supremely high level of energy talent on stage, from every single member of the cast and the orchestra under George Dyer. It was an absolute treat to be transported from a drizzly Bristol evening to a Christmas in 1930s New York, and to completely suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, thanks to such convincing performances. Go Team Waldorf!
MAB Monday 31st August 2015