Starlight Musical Theatre’s Annie
SOMETIMES you have to feel sorry for adults.
You might do a perfectly creditable job, hit every note, nail every line and pull off every joke, but throw some youngsters into the mix and you know who will get the biggest cheer.
So it was with Annie, which premiered on a Wednesday evening with Eden Court’s sweltering Empire theatre so hot that Miss Saigon might have been more appropriate than a show set in wintry New York.
Starlight, although still a relatively young company, has a core cadre of experienced cast members that can always be depended upon to deliver.
After his turn as Fagin in Oliver!, Garry Black is once again in a key role as Oliver Warbucks, transforming from chilly capitalist to quite the most lovable New York billionaire with unfortunate hair issues that you could imagine.
But even the tall Mr Black had to stand in the shadow of Erin Moran, who played the title role on Wednesday night (the role is shared with Tyra McLoughlin, who performs at the Friday evening and Saturday matinee shows).
Erin provided all you could ask of Annie, despite some early nerves, with the required sass, the stage presence to match her adult and even canine co-stars, and a pure belter of a voice as she wins over hearts and even changes the course of US domestic policy.
She was not alone in enjoying a spot of onstage mugging.
Think of James Twigg as radio star Bert Healy. His rendition of You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile might have been a highlight of another show, but the scene swiftly shifts to the New York Municipal Orphanage and the orphans’ all singing, all dancing version of the same song.
Tough for an adult to compete with that, especially when the orphans deploy secret weapon Katie Mitchell, the smallest of their number and the one who gets the delicious pay-off line to the monstrous Miss Hannigan.
If the older cast cannot compete on cuteness, they can at least provide us with villains we love to hate, or hate to love.
Heading the triumvirate of nastiness is Fiona Chapman as Miss Hannigan, permanently sozzled on booze and self-loathing, but managing to summon up even more hatred for the orphans in her less than loving care.
Liam MacAskill, usually seen on the side of the angels, relishes his shift to the dark side as Hannigan’s brother Rooster, adding an extra layer and a touch of southern twang to his performance as "Ralph Mudge", supposedly Annie’s loving father, abetted by Molly MacKay as girlfriend Lily St Regis in classic gold-digger flapper mode.
Together they get to share the show’s bounciest number, the jazzy Easy Street, showing that if the Devil and his party do not really have all the best tunes, they still manage to grab some pretty decent ones and coming over with such appeal that you might be tempted to overlook the fact they are plotting child murder.
Set against backdrops rich enough for Oliver Warbucks, Annie maintains Starlight’s ambition to put on shows that mix professional production with local talent and as a packed out Eden Court demonstrated, it is a combination that is proving very popular.
New year Starlight’s focus moves from children to teenagers with Grease and the hunt is on for new stars to recreate Rydell High at Eden Court.
Based on the company’s ability to uncover young talent for this year’s show, that should be no trouble at all.