Review: Annie by numbers

In the interest of full disclosure for this review, I must begin by saying that I pretty much grew up watching Annie, the 1982 movie.

It was the mid-80s, and our aunt had given us a Betamax copy of Annie, the movie, with Aileen Quinn in the starring role and featuring legends like Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, and Bernadette Peters. It was pretty much on constant repeat, as it was a kid-friendly movie with lovable songs - who can forget the movie's signature tune, 'Tomorrow'? - great characters - and we had far little choice when it comes to our home video collection.

So it must be said that while watching the movie, I kept remembering similar scenes in the movie as the musical played out at the Marina Bay Sands .

The musical, directed and choreographed by Roger Hannah for the Singapore run, stayed true to its original plot, while the movie veered away into a different direction, particularly towards the ending. I must confess that I liked the movie ending with its much more suspenseful climax.

So, while I did not expect the screen and stage versions to be identical, I did expect to fall in love with Annie in the musical as I did in the movie. After all, the premise is that after little orphan Annie is only temporarily adopted by the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, whose original concept of an orphan is that they're boys, but he becomes so enamored with her that he decides to adopt her.

However, Annie believes that her parents are still alive somewhere, and turns down his adoption offer, sparking a nationwide search for her parents.

Unfortunately, the musical faltered slightly in bringing this premise to life. Scenes which were supposed to show Annie as being playful and adorable just turned Annie into a slightly demanding - dare I say, bratty - little kid. Perhaps it could be because the little girl playing Annie in the show I watched, Ella Crossland, seemed to be acting by numbers, saying lines with a flat tone whether she was supposed to be sad, excited or happy.

It is quite unfortunate that the 10-year-old, who was promoted from playing Molly in the UK tour of Annie last year, didn't show more nuance in her performance. Indeed, it felt like a poor copy of Ms Quinn's performance in the movie.

Two other actresses, Katie Howard and Charlie Hall play Annie in the month-long run of the play in Singapore.

However, the show was not for nought, as it was saved by David McAlister's masterful performance as Daddy Warbucks. His immensely powerful singing voice complemented his charming performance as the industrial tycoon. David, who is the English voice of Singapore Airlines, is especially poignant in his solo songs like 'Why Should I Change a Thing?' And 'Something Was Missing'.

Su Pollard's Miss Hannigan was a delight to watch, as was Simone Craddock's Grace Farrell.

Stealing the show, though, was 6-year-old Chloe Choo's performance as the baby of the orphans, Molly. The Modern Montessori International School student elicited giggles and laughter every time she appeared. Watch for the adorable scene when the orphans visit the Warbucks mansion and you will see what I mean. The other orphans, played by Singaporean child actresses also turned in good, strong performances, with their vocal prowesses on show in numbers like 'It's the Hard Knock Life' and the reprise of 'You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile'.

The musical Annie is a slick production, with catchy music, and some good performances, but perhaps some more coaching for little orphan Annie is needed.

Catch Annie at the Sands Theater, Marina Bay Sands from Tuesday to Sunday on July 10 to August 5, 2012.


ellenja@sph.com.sg

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