Piccadilly Theatre, London – until 16 January 2017
“‘Stead’a treated, we get tricked!”
With a singing style that is as strong as Theresa May’s record on supporting the police and an accent that is as stable as the content of her manifesto, it’s a bold move to make Miranda Hart the above the title star of this production of Annie, the first in London this millennium. To be fair though, unlike May she’s willing to work well with others, gamely throwing herself into harmonies and hoofing around in vaudevillean-style routines, but her performance is too close to the warmth of her TV persona to ever really convince of the darkness at the heart of Miss Hannigan.
Equally, it’s hard to feel that the West End is in real need of Annie and all its old-fashioned ways. Nikolai Foster‘s production, seen on tour in the UK over the last year, has its certain charm but it is hard to get excited by any of it. Colin Richmond‘s jigsaw puzzle of a set design misguidedly evokes thoughts of Matilda when in reality there’s nothing that fresh about it; Nick Winston‘s choreography similarly promises much but ends up reaching for traditional touchpoints which end up underwhelming with the relatively small company at hand here, as evidenced in the small scale of ‘N.Y.C.’.
Part of the problem may well lie with me. I’ve never seen the show onstage before and though it may not have been the most well-received of remakes but I admired the ambition behind the 2014 film adaptation, particularly Sia and Gregg Kurstin’s rearrangements of the score by composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin. Here, there’s no invention or flair to the way the music has been interpreted (ironically, you can buy the film’s soundtrack on CD in the concession booth) and on press night, I have to say there was a real muddiness that got in the way of a fair amount of lyrical clarity.
And with no attempt to mine Thomas Meehan’s book for any contemporary resonances either, we’re left with a story that is often on the wrong side of twee. Or maybe it is cute and I’m just being Grinch-like. But for all of the commitment of the performers (Ruby Stokes’ assured Annie, Djalenga Scott’s vibrant Lily), this production didn’t give me any of the freshness or inspiration that makes the best revivals of musical theatre classics spectacular and worthwhile.