REVIEW: Annie’s upbeat message arrives just in time thanks to HAODS

Miss Hannigan with the orphans. Picture by Chris Dale
Miss Hannigan with the orphans. Picture by Chris Dale
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Annie, Horsham Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society (HAODS), The Capitol, Horsham, November 15-19

It’s nearly that tough time of year again. We’re told the festive period should be relaxing and fun but, in reality, the build up to Christmas means frantic shopping and extra work deadlines.

It’s stressful. And for many there’s the creeping sense that those New Year’s resolutions made back in January haven’t been kept.

Well, cheer up. There are lots of people who are far worse off and remain optimistic in the face of real adversity.

Annie, in HAODS’ latest musical, represents one such person.

The plot is about a young orphan, Annie, who endures a drab existence in a 1930s New York orphanage run by the boozy Miss Hannigan. One day, after an escape attempt, Annie gets invited to spend Christmas with hard-nosed billionaire businessman Oliver Warbucks. Charmed by Annie’s optimism Warbucks decides to help her find her parents. However, he offers a cash prize, so Miss Hannigan and her ne’er-do-well brother Rooster start organising a scam...

Things look like they might go very wrong, but Annie never lets go of her optimism.

It’s a nice message, of course, but it’s not the only enjoyable thing about this production.

There are plenty of fun moments thanks to director Juliet Sumner and her cast. There’s a meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt (played with warmth by Howard Collis), a trip through the New York streets (where Martin Bracewell demonstrates his commanding stage presence as Warbucks) and an encounter with a stray dog (played by the lovable Milo). In one surprising scene the cruel Miss Hannigan (Candie Johnson offering a great ‘Noo Yawk’ accent) actually evokes some sympathy while listening to her radio.

The scenery and costumes are beautifully done too, capturing that harsh, vibrant feel of The Big Apple during The Great Depression.

Musical director Andrew Payne and the orchestra deliver the quirky tunes with a sense of mischief while dances are tightly choreographed by Bethany Landskroner. ‘Easy Street’, with the nimble Chris Dale as Rooster, is good, but ‘Hard Knock Life’ is probably the most memorable song and dance number... and the child stars nail it.

I’m reviewing the Wednesday evening show with the ‘Team Bronx’ kids but I’m certain ‘Team Brooklyn’ showed the same level of talent.

There are too many performers to name really, but I’ll end by mentioning just one more: 12-year-old Cassie Philpott as the ‘Team Bronx’ Annie.

She handles the mix of singing, dancing and acting well, but, most importantly, she projects the confidence and optimism that people find so inspiring about this courageous redhead.

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