Review: Annie

JESS MCALLEN
Last updated 10:09 15/06/2014

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If you grew up in the 1970s there's a good chance you were charmed (or infuriated) by the eternal optimism of Annie: the story of a young orphan who stumbles into the American Dream, being adopted by an awkwardly kind billionaire.

It's been scattered across generations - first hitting Broadway in 1977, then made into a film in 1982 and a TV movie in 1999.

Or maybe you recognise the foot-stomping 'It's the Hard Knock Life' from Jay Z's 1998 sample of the tune.

Set in the 1930s Great Depression it's almost laughable, in 2014, for modern audiences to accept the luck of Annie, who is adopted by "Daddy" Warbucks (David McAlister).

The good are rewarded, the bad carted off to jail, the lost dog is found and all the economic problems are swept under the carpet in the end.

But even the most cynical of theatre-goers has to be captivated by the classy New Zealand production of the musical and full credit goes to the child performers.

Despite an all-star British cast what really sticks out is the energy and raw talent of the kiwi youngsters who play the orphans - with pint-sized Molly (7-year-old Venice Harris) stealing the show.

Last night, Auckland's Civic audience was treated to Zoe Fifield - one of three girls picked to rotate the role of Annie.

She thrived off the energy of her fellow orphans and transformed a storyline that had become tacky to many ('Tomorrow, Tomorrow' has a nails-on-chalkboard effect after a few decades) into an irresistibly relatable performance.

Fifield is sweet without being sickly and cheeky but not obnoxious. The 13-year-old Rangitoto College student has a strong voice but it's her ability to hook an audience that has her pinned down as one to watch out for in the future.

The performance was swept along by a powerful orchestra - the soundtrack of this show alone is worth paying for - and the adapted version of 'It's The Hard-Knock Life', with the orphans' full-blast scrubbing floor, is genius.

As expected with a big-budget international production it has all the bells and whistles - sets dotted with colourful vintage furniture, the art well-executed and fashionably-retro costumes worn by slick New York City dwellers.

Miss Hannigan, the boozy and evil orphanage owner, is played excellently by Su Pollard (Hi-de-hi) and the crowd laps up her whisky-swindling performance, absorbing all her jealous swagger. Her brother, Rooster, (MiG Ayesa) is perfectly-cast, dominating the stage with his bad-boy presence.

Annie doesn't try to be anything it's not - after-all, a bro-mantic love triangle between Republican Plutocrat "Daddy" Warbucks, a fiery-spirited orphan and a Democratic President was never going to be an example of real-life in the Great Depression.

But at the very least you get the trickle-down effect of a new-twist on catchy songs, witnessing rising kiwi talent - and a slightly bewildered dog makes the occasional appearance.

For more information go to: http://anniethemusical.co.nz/

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