Pros: A talented young cast with strong singing voices.
Cons: The acting could do with a little work, and the sound is straight up bad.
One can hardly imagine two more different shows than the angry, testosterone-fuelled punk musical American Idiot and the saccharine Christmas fairytale Annie. And yet, they do have something in common: they’re both currently playing at the Arts Theatre, just off Leicester Square. Although no one could blame if you didn’t realise this, because the whole theatre is completely done up American Idiot style. That’s because the other show there is not actual Annie but Annie Jr., an amateur production of the Broadway favourite in which all roles are taken on by children and young adults from the performing arts programme P2P.
A different name, but the same story, Annie Jr. is about the titular young girl who has the double bad luck of being both an orphan and ginger. Stuck at the orphanage run by the horrible Miss Hannigan, Annie dreams of the day she’ll be picked up by her parents who left her as a baby. Then, in an unexpected stroke of luck, she’s invited to spend Christmas with billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who is going to help Annie find her parents.
Presumably to make things a bit more manageable for the young cast, the show has been cut down significantly, which means it clocks in at a speedy 70 minutes. Nevertheless, all the classic songs, including Maybe and It’s the Hard Knock Life, are there and performed with bucket loads of enthusiasm by the young cast. Plenty of attention has obviously been paid to the singing, which is very strong. When Gracie Weldon’s Annie launches into Tomorrow you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re hearing Aileen Quinn in the 1982 film version. The acting, however, could do with a little more work, although there are some good performances. Bethany Wilkinson is a winsome Grace Farrell and James Sampson’s butler Drake is an obvious favourite with the audience. Top marks are for Jessica Niles, who shows some serious comedic talent as Miss Hannigan.
That this is an amateur production shows in other aspects as well. The quality of the sound is, quite frankly, poor. Microphones frequently come on late and the music is much too loud in comparison with the actors’ voices. The amateur feel of the show is not always a negative, however. The set, for example, has a homemade charm about it, mainly because it’s actually the set of American Idiot half covered up, half embellished with some simple, multifunctional props. And Sandy the dog, a puppet operated by Hugo Cotton, is certainly no Joey the War Horse, but nevertheless manages to draw some satisfying ‘awww’-s from the audience.
Overall, Annie Jr. is a pleasant theatre outing, especially appropriate if you’re looking to take kids (or adults) to a show that won’t test their ability to sit still for two hours. And really, you can never go wrong with something as infectiously cheerful as this. Despite the strangeness of seeing this shamelessly sugary, Christmassy show in August, you’ll leave the theatre with a smile on your face and a song in your head.
Book: Thomas Meehan
Music: Charles Strouse
Lyrics: Martin Charnin
Director: Matthew Chandler
Producer: Stephan Garcia for P2P Productions
Box Office: 020 7836 8463
Booking Link: http://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/annie-jnr/
Booking Until: 31 August 2015