By Laurie Scarborough
The Tony-Award winning family musical, Annie, has hit South African stages. After a six-week run in Johannesburg, the show has taken up residency at the Artscape Opera House since the beginning of December.
The musical follows Annie, an orphan desperately looking for her parents while living in an orphanage run by the nasty alcoholic matron, Miss Hannigan. A rich magnate, Oliver Warbucks, who seems to have stayed afloat during the Great Depression decides he wants an orphan for Christmas and Annie moves in. Things get complicated when Miss Hannigan’s brother, an escaped convict, and his gold-digger girlfriend, Lily St. Regis, arrive on the scene with a plan to derail Annie’s new life.
The audience stared in wonderment throughout the production, and the kids in front of me lifted their arms in the air in awe and exasperation when scenery moved on it’s own accord as if by magic and whispered amongst themselves, “That table just moved by itself!”, until one of the older kids nodded knowingly and said, “They’re pulling it with strings backstage. Obviously.”
The show was a wonderful spectacle, fit with a wholesome story, catchy and familiar tunes, and a dazzling cast. Neels Clasen was the perfect mix between loving father figure and hard-line tycoon. The lovely young actress who played Annie was also very impressive. Her voice had a beautiful tembre, although she was very pitchy. I think the music was perhaps just out of her vocal range. However I thought the imperfection in her voice added a layer of authenticity to the character of Annie, who is otherwise impossibly optimistic. Most orphans having experienced similar mistreatment and neglect would not only never have a song in their heart, but would be just as depressed as the American economy during the 1930s.
I did feel that Charon Williams-Ros, who played Miss Hannigan was nasty enough but didn’t relish in the humour that comes with the role. Their are a lot of opportunities for comedy in that role and I felt she didn’t seize them.
The truly triple-threat Delray Halgryn captured the vacuous and avaricious Lily St. Regis to perfection, and her counterpart, Stephen Jubber as Rooster was also suitably obnoxious, shady and full of nefarious tricks up his sleeve.
The well-seasoned stage actress, Candice van Litsenborgh, who played several characters, added that touch of comedy to all her roles that really added to the show. I especially liked her Mrs Christmas, the nerdy, inept radio foley artist.
Jenna Robinson and the rest of the star-studded ensemble (including Hope Maimane and Duane Alexander) were phenomenal. There were so many costume and wig changes I was trying to work out how many dressers they were standing backstage. In a single number (“N.Y.C.”), the ensemble had three costume changes. I mean…how? I also really loved the choreography. I think Nick Winston did a great job choreographing to the strengths of the ensemble and also for the kids, who wouldn’t have as much training.
A special mention should go to all the kids in the cast, including SBAM’s Rachel Turck, as well as the young actresses playing Annie (all three of them). Their high-energy performances matched the adults’ and they were like seasoned pros. Their American accents were also on point.
The charming family musical is set at Christmas time, and so it is the perfect musical for the festive season, and suitable for the whole family. The show has a great message for adults and children, about the importance of optimism, love, family, belonging, as well as accepting new people and discovering what truly is important in life.
If you have young kids, try to book for a matinee as the evening show ends just after 10pm. The show closes on 8 January next year. But really, see Annie “Tomorrow”…or perhaps today. Book tickets here.