Wednesday, July 06, 2005

REVIEW:Annie (The Olympia, Dublin)

Now, here’s one in the “they wouldn’t get away with that now” category. A mega-rich elder business leader sends his PA to an orphanage to pick him out a suitably appealing young child to come and live with him in his mansion and get showered with gifts and affection. Isn’t this exactly the kind of behaviour that got Michael Jackson into so much hot water?

But back in the 1920s, when the original orphan Annie cartoons appeared, things were much more innocent. And even in 1976, when the cartoons were transformed into a stage musical, things were relaxed enough to let old Mr. Warbucks procure a nice young orphan to rear. And just as well, otherwise the world would have been deprived of a classic piece of entertainment.

Annie strikes an exquisite balance in kid-friendly entertainment, blending souped-up cuteness (look! here comes the doggie!) with some winning tunes and plenty of lithely written comic material to keep their elders amused.

This current British touring production handles these little asides about Dustbowl era American politics and society (as well as the clever radio show-within-a show) very adroitly, finding the humour where countless productions have failed.

It is hard, all the same, to feel quite the degree of affection for the sunny little orphan that everyone around her apparently does. But that is hardly the fault of young star, Megan Joyner.

Surprisingly, this poses no particular bar to enjoying the show. Little Annie’s role in the narrative, after all, is mostly as a blank canvas for the heroes, like nice Mr Warbucks (played with stern humour by Mark Wynter) and the villains like that delightful soak of gorgon, Miss Hannigan (played by Ruth Madoc) to reveal their true colours and, of course, to receive their rewards and comeuppances as appropriate.

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