It opened the following year in London with Sheila Hancock and Stratford Johns among the cast, and this week, Cary Amateur Theatrical Society bring the heart-warming tale of Annie’s adventures to the stage at Ansford Academy. This is the third time CATS has presented the show, so it is clearly one for which they and the good folk of Castle Cary have great affection.
Heading the cast this time round is Elishia Hooper in the title role. This is her third year with the company and it would take a hard heart indeed not to be completely won over by her performance which was both warm and gutsy. Her opening song, Maybe, was sung with great poignancy and was one of the real highlights of the show. With the vigorous performance of Hard Knock Life that followed, she and the other youngsters living in the New York Municipal Orphanage captured all our hearts from the word go.
Annie, of course, is rescued from the grimness of everyday life in the orphanage by the elegant Grace Farrell, PA to multi-millionaire Oliver Warbucks, roles played to absolute perfection by brother and sister Vikki and Luke Whitchurch. Both are highly accomplished and experienced actors and their performances shone. Their scenes together and with Annie, were unfailingly good – the locket scene towards the end of Act I for example, or the excellent song-and dance routine I Don’t Need Anything But You at the end of Act II.
As the frightful Miss Hannigan, Amanda Lowder gave a performance that was somewhat at odds with this. Although the whole show is based on a comic strip and caricature is to be expected, hers was rather too grotesque, too pantomime dame-ish perhaps, and would have been significantly better had it been toned down just a bit. As it was, it didn’t always sit comfortably alongside some of the other performances. I liked her song Little Girls in Act I however, her voice and facial expressions suiting the lyrics of the song perfectly. I don’t know if it is in the script or not, but the pulling off of the baby doll’s head at the end was a great touch!
By way of contrast, Robin Dibben was the perfect caricature of the small-time American crook, Rooster. In a performance that was far less OTT, he was suitably smarmy in Act I, appropriately down at heel in Act II and revealed a great sense of comic timing throughout. The trio, Easy Street, with Miss Hannigan and his side-kick Lily St. Regis (played by Sally Goodwin-Davis) was very nicely done and choreographed in true ‘30s style.
Other terrific cameo roles were played by Terry Francis as President Roosevelt (what a pity we couldn’t all join in with the presidential team singing Tomorrow) and Theo Simon as both radio host Bert Healy and as an un-named but otherwise memorable member of the NYPD in Act I.
Although the stage at Ansford School cannot be the easiest to work on, I am sure that some of the sets and scene changes could have been simplified to help keep the show moving. The excellent band could also perhaps have been better used here. There was one particularly long scene change in Act II, for example, where instead of just playing the same few bars of scene change music umpteen times we could perhaps have had an instrumental reprise of one of the songs.
The stage was also rather cluttered at times. One such scene, Warbucks’ mansion in Act I, seemed to be completely swamped with servants, and with a dance routine that often made a lot of use of arms, things tended to look messy rather than stylish. It is great to have a large chorus, of course, and the ensemble singing was good, but is it really necessary to have everyone on the stage all the time, and if it is, then surely the choreography has to take this into account.
Finally, the acoustics of the hall were such that some of the solo singing sounded a little bit strained at times and hearing spoken dialogue when there was any form of underscoring was rather difficult. Realistically, the six-piece band could hardly have played more sympathetically, so better amplification is probably the only answer.
These reservations aside, director Adrian Livsey and musical director Mark Tromans are to be congratulated on bringing Annie to Castle Cary once more – a show that was no doubt great fun to take part in and which was enthusiastically received by the large audience.
Performances continue until Saturday and tickets should be available at the door.