Review: Creaky plot lets down quality songs
Theatre: Annie, Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
Orphans in Depression era New York city after the crash? Annie should speak to us now, post-banking crash, in a new and dynamic way, but it doesn't. The contemporary moment only serves to underline the work's severe limitations.
Colin Richmond's set is a selection of jigsaw pieces designed to reflect the jigsaw of Annie's life; it remains merely decorative, rather than theatrically dynamic. Desks zoom on and off to switch locations and backdrops fly in, moves that are slick, but repetitive and unoriginal. Today's musical audience has been spoiled by major whizz-bang moments of coup-de-theatre. The old-fashioned virtues of Annie, whose wealth is in the songs and dance routines, feel a bit feeble.
What Annie does have is a great star part for a pre-teen musical actress, and that is well handled by Elise Blake on the Dublin opening night, accompanied by her bunch of fellow rag-tag orphans. Lesley Joseph does a terrific job of the villain Miss Hannigan; consistently spellbinding, she is rhythm to the bone.
The songs, that have become so familiar, are still first rate: Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow and Easy Street. But aspects of the story are deeply unsatisfactory. Why does rich and money-obsessed Mr Warbucks fall so rapidly for Annie's charm? The opening few numbers in the orphanage and the homelesss camp have a gritty Dickensian feel.
But soon afterwards Annie is whisked away to spend Christmas at Mr Warbucks' house, on the most spurious of grounds. We leave all those poor people behind and get to hang out with a billionaire, who has uniformed staff.
The cure for poverty, apparently, is to get adopted by the super-rich who are also super-kindhearted, and can get the media and the FBI to do their bidding.
The villains are poor semi-criminals, who believe there is an easy life to be had drinking gin and staying in bed until noon. It is difficult to cross the gaping crevasse of simple-minded social analysis to get to the cheerful optimism on the other side.