David Bootle heads to Sunderland Empire for a captivating journey of hope and optimism in Annie The Musical
Rediscovering the Sunderland Empire after years was a nostalgic experience, reigniting my appreciation for its historic charm and character. The grandeur of the building, with its expansive foyer and abundant natural light, created a delightful prelude to the evening’s entertainment. The anticipation in the air was almost tangible, setting the stage for a memorable night.
The performance itself was a testament to theatrical brilliance. The characters were portrayed with impeccable precision, none more so than the delightfully campy and theatrically extravagant Miss Hannigan.
Yet, it was the titular character, Annie, who left an indelible mark on the audience. She was a revelation—a rising star with a voice that resonated, a character that sparkled, and a timing that was nothing short of perfection.
The entire ensemble, from the cast to the choreographers and set designers, displayed a professional commitment to excellence, resulting in a production that oozes quality. This was a very good show – I can assure you.
The dance sequences, set changes, timing, every scenic backdrop, and every carefully crafted detail contributed to the overall spectacle, earning a well-deserved standing ovation as the curtains fell.
Annie The Musical: A Familiar Tale
I had arrived in anticipation with my partner and teenage son. Familiar with the tale but not having seen it for a long time there was a mix of excitement and curiosity.
As the performance built though, I really sensed that this very simple tale had a powerful undertone – and a very fitting one for our current times of post-Covid, cost-of-living crisis.
“Annie” isn’t just a musical; it’s a timeless narrative of hope and resilience. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, it serves as a poignant reminder that even in the darkest of times, the human spirit can triumph. This spirit, exemplified by the iconic anthem “Tomorrow,” permeates the entire production, leaving audiences with a renewed sense of optimism.
This particular production of “Annie” was elevated by the presence of two seasoned performers who needed no introduction. Craig Revel Horwood, renowned for his role as a judge on “Strictly Come Dancing,” breathed life into the character of Miss Hannigan. His charisma and energy were infectious, infusing the show with a sparkle and just some plain old-fashioned fun and frivolity at times, that had the whole audience – young and old – belly laughing. Horwood’s deep affection for the character was evident in his portrayal, adding layers to this iconic role.
Opposite him, Alex Bourne, a theatre veteran with over three decades of experience, reprised his role as Oliver Warbucks. His portrayal was nothing short of masterful, drawing upon his extensive experience both in the West End and during the UK Tour. Bourne’s Oliver Warbucks was a character of depth and authenticity, with moments of nuanced subtlety and others of sheer theatrical grandeur. His performance captured the essence of this iconic character with remarkable finesse.
A Historical Aspect
Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, “Annie” offers a window into a challenging period in history. Alex Bourne emphasised the importance of keeping this history alive, even in shows as beloved as “Annie.”
The cast’s dedication to exploring the nuances of this era ensured that the production was not only entertaining but also educational, shedding light on a crucial chapter of the past. It’s a timeless tale, the optimism of Annie reflects the setting of the great depression and Oliver Warbucks flies Annie to the White House in Washington D.C., introducing her to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Here we see the formulation of the president’s ‘new deal’. Again instructional but also recounted in such a powerful way by the cast.
Music lies at the heart of “Annie,” with unforgettable numbers such as “Maybe” and “It’s The Hard-Knock Life.” Alex Bourne also had the opportunity to shine in his solo performance of “Something Was Missing”. It provided a unique glimpse into Oliver Warbucks’ character. The relationship between Oliver Warbucks and Annie grows in depth over the entire performance. It can be quite touching at times.
Annie The Musical: In Conclusion
As the curtain rises on “Annie” at Sunderland Empire, it offers a unique opportunity to revisit a timeless classic. To be captivated by Annie’s unyielding spirit, and to savour the exceptional performances of the whole cast – faultless to the end.
This is a feel-good show, an uplifting show and one that sticks with you. For a wet Monday evening, I came out with my entourage skipping in delight at a newfound optimism. We can change the world – we can believe it’s a better place … I thought to myself. The car on my return home was filled with Annie songs belted from the back seat.
This production serves as a poignant reminder that even in the darkest of times, hope, love, and the transformative power of live theatre can illuminate our lives. Don’t miss this chance to experience the enchantment of “Annie”—a musical that continues to touch hearts across generations.
Annie The Musical is on at Sunderland Empire from 2 October until 7 October, grab your tickets here