REVIEW: Dazzling dancing and sublime singing in festive feel-good hit Annie

Jodie Prenger and some of the children who perform in Annie
Jodie Prenger and some of the children who perform in Annie

Entertainments reporter Heather Jan Brunt reviews Annie at the New Theatre, Oxford

If you enjoy a festive trip to the theatre, but don’t particularly like pantomimes, the feel good musical Annie could be the perfect show for you.

Set in New York during the Great Depression of the 1930s it tells the story of young Annie, living in an orphanage and determined to find her real parents, who happens upon a benevolent billionaire, Mr Warbucks, who decides to adopt her - it’s like an American female version of Oliver.

But just like Oliver, it’s not all saccharine – there’s plenty of evil lurking.

Jodie Prenger stars as tyrannical orphanage boss Miss Hannigan, and she gives a glowing performance as the drunken, child-hating woman who regularly breaks into spectacular song.

But even after leaving the orphanage, Annie’s life doesn’t run smoothly as Hannigan’s brother Rooster and his gal Lily turn up pretending to be her real parents, in order to collect the large reward on offer.

The time-honoured advice given to actors never to work with children or animals is turned on its head with this production – the show simply couldn’t go on without them.

The cast includes three teams of children playing the orphans, and three different girls playing Annie. The night I was there Annie was brilliantly presented by Isabella Pappas who gave a performance way beyond her years, with a beautiful singing voice and a very credible American accent.

Her orphan companions dazzled in their choreographed routines, singing, dancing and filling the stage with real presence.

And then there was Sandy, a Labradoodle that Annie briefly adopts after escaping from the orphanage in a laundry basket – as you would expect in this dog loving country of ours, Sandy was a big hit with the audience.

But supporting all these children and the dog was a super troupe of adult actors, offering equally excellent singing, dancing and acting. The show simply gave me goose bumps on several occasions with beautiful songs including Hard Knock Life and Tomorrow.

* On now at New Theatre, Oxford until Sunday January 3, full details of ticket prices and all performances dates and times