Theatre Review: ANNIE – Opera House, Manchester

The cast of ANNIE UK Tour 2023. Photo Credit: Paul Coltas

Aided by its colourful set, inspired choreography and incredible cast performance, ANNIE stands the test of time.

4 out of 5 stars

Slowly approaching its 50th year onstage after opening in New York in 1977, the beloved ANNIE returns to Manchester’s Opera House every bit as bright and joyful as ever.

Written by Thomas Meehan and featuring classic songs TOMORROW and IT’S THE HARD KNOCK LIFE, it centres on the titular character of Annie, an orphan who seeks to find her birth parents. Instead, Annie finds herself in the care of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who may be rich in lifestyle but lacking in family.

Finding that they have more in common than they thought, Annie and Warbucks begin to form a family of their own until it emerges that Annie’s past isn’t as easy to leave behind as they previously thought.
Sharangi Gnanavarathan shines as Annie in her professional stage debut thanks to her incredible vocal range and remarkable stage presence. She is every bit as quick, witty, and sincere as Annie should be and has a beautifully heartfelt chemistry with her cast members. Gnanavarathan captures the audience’s hearts from the beginning and is certainly one to watch, showing such outstanding talent at such a young age.

Craig Revel-Horwood (Miss Hannigan) in ANNIE UK Tour. Photo Credit: Paul Coltas

Starring alongside Gnanavarathan in the role of horrible Miss Hannigan is the show-stopping Craig Revel-Horwood. The STRICTLY COME DANCING judge certainly puts his money where his mouth is in his performance, expertly executing Nick Winston’s timeless choreography with ease, flair, and humour. And that’s not to mention his belting voice – reminiscent of both classic villains and theatrical femme fatales, creating a fantastically camp and deliciously evil combination. Every moment spent on stage by Revel-Horwood is a delight for the audience.

Providing the perfect contrast to the bitter Miss Hannigan and affirming the show’s heart is the ensemble of Annie’s friends from the orphanage and how they work alongside Gnanavarathan’s Annie to create something truly special. Their harmonies are absolutely captivating, and they bring endless energy, power, and charm to their performances, particularly in their dynamic performances of Nick Winston’s choreography.

Winston’s choreography of the children, in particular, is inspired, creating some really exciting and complex sequences that the actors executed with precision. Overall, Winston’s choreography is the perfect blend of fresh and timeless, with plenty of stylistic references to the smoothness of the 1930s to contrast with the modern, rowdy style of the children’s characters. It is the perfect accompaniment to the powerful atmosphere created by the orchestra and the talented voices of the cast.

The cast of ANNIE UK Tour 2023. Photo Credit: Paul Coltas

However, there are times when the razzmatazz glamour of the choreography takes over, and it is being used as an unnecessary filler that would have been better suited to further developing the relationship between Annie and Mr. Warbucks. While it certainly paints a vivid picture of a glittering, bustling New York, it does little to add to the story and, at times, detracts from the true heart of the musical.

Similarly, although the cast’s voices are impeccable, the sound mixing could do more to showcase this. The cast’s singing voices are incredibly sharp and grating on the higher notes, the volume simply too high or almost completely drowned out by the music on the lower notes. Considering the cast’s outstanding vocal talent and the orchestra’s enthralling power, it is a shame that both couldn’t be allowed to shine.

But what the performance lacks in sound quality, it certainly makes up for in its visuals. Colin Richmond’s set and costume design create some vivid, colourful tableaus that feel simultaneously classic and current. How he can represent space and character onstage is unique and memorable, truly allowing the cast and the story to take centre stage. His costuming of Revel-Horwood, in particular, makes perfect reference to classic pantomime dames without detracting from the story’s heart or turning Miss Hannigan into a complete caricature.

As a whole, ANNIE reminds us why this story has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. It is a heartwarming and genuine tale of family, friendship, and optimism. Whether you are a lifelong fan or entirely new to ANNIE, you are certainly in safe hands here.

ANNIE runs at the Opera House, Manchester, until 30 September 2023