When KicksArt Theatre co-directors and neighbours, Steven Stead and Greg King, told us they were going to stage the musical ‘Annie’ we thought they had flipped more than somewhat. ‘It has kids in it,’ we pointed out. They nodded glumly. ‘And a dog!’ The nods were glummer, but the determination remained.
True conviction that a life of theatre had finally blown Steven’s mind came when he announced that he would not only be directing it, but would also act the part of the nasty ‘Rooster’ Hannigan.
Prepared to witness shambles, disaster and general chaos, we attended last night’s performance – and were blown away. The kids were seasoned singers, dancers and actresses transplanted into young bodies. The dog was spot-on with every cue (and bribe), while obviously enjoying every minute. The adult members of the cast rose to the challenge of being in competition with cute kids and an animal for stage attention, and avoided being upstaged by delivering sterling performances.
As playing one of the parts as well as directing, Steven had given himself the challenge of having to lead by example, so his performance needed to be done particularly well. It was. I loved the section where he is acting as ‘Rooster’ when ‘Rooster’ is acting as the diffident long-lost father. So changed was he that we didn’t recognise him at first.
The songs are challenging for children in particular, and some quality was lost in the lower registers. The higher notes were all belted out with accuracy and enthusiasm, though.
Visually, the show is dazzling. Dances are lively and done with wonderful precision, and the tableaus appearing at the end of each number are quite stunningly staged and executed. Sets are, as usual for the ones designed and built by Greg, simply amazing, from orphanage to streets of New York, to the Warbucks mansion and the White House.
By now, you will be sick of all these enthusiastic superlatives. Don’t take my word for it, though. Ask any one of the members of the packed-house audience who all stood up and applauded themselves to exhaustion last night.