AS THE FIRST trumpet cadence sounds, of the Annie theme song, before the curtains open, the children in the audience hush in anticipation, jiving in their seats as the jazzy showbiz magic of the tune takes over. Directed by Jill Girard and Keith Smith and featuring the astonishing 9-year-old Karla Lotz in the lead, this version of Annie Jr will soften the heart of the most seasoned curmudgeon.
It’s the classic tale of an orphan who engages hardship as she finds happiness she never dared to dream of, and the model for the work in this context is absolutely clear. The tunes are well-known chestnuts and the staging of it in this formal theatre space, replete with its velvet curtains and its beautiful traditional set by Grant Knottenbelt is delightful, and feels just right.
Child-heavy by its nature, the success of the work is pinned on the ability of the children in the cast to carry the narrative and this is achieved with mixed success. When the little girls articulate separately, sometimes their voices are so high and the words strung together so precariously, that their meaning is completely lost. Lotz has a sense of authority that distinguishes her beautifully as the eponymous little red-head, but little Catherine Traub in the role of Molly, is another child to look out for: she has the feistiness that the role dictates, and with the cute-stakes ramped all the way up, she lends the whole orphan context engaging realness.
The adults in this work are in many respects the trimming on the top, lending the story, which has 1930s America political overtures, gravitas, but also bringing in the element of real evil, in the persons of Miss Hannigan (performed with brassy badness by Alida Senekal), her brother, Rooster (Travis Hornsby) and his tart who poses as Mrs Mudge (Noni Mkhonto). The schism between evil and good – emulated in Daddy Warbucks (Luciano Zuppa) and Grace (Kaylan Sabbadin) – is completely clear.
With a couple of hilarious moments, which includes the plastering of the little orphans with blue eye-shadow and shrill lipstick, when they get to go to Annie’s adoption party, the work is on the whole strong and coherent.
And while the original story embodies a clutch of red herrings – what happens to the other six orphans when Annie gets a once-in-a-lifetime shot at real happiness, for instance? – the story is told with boisterous enthusiasm, general clarity and a hefty dollop of the kind of feel good stuff that we all need more of.
- Annie Jr is written by Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse, based on the book by Thomas Meehan, and directed by Jill Girard and Keith Smith. It features design by Sandy Dyer (staging) Dale Scheepers (musical direction), Simon Vermooten (sound), Grant Knottenbelt (lighting, set and audio-visual) and Sean MacGrath and Merrily Whillier (costumes). Stage managed by Sizo Tshabala, it is performed by Travis Hornsby, Thokozani Jiyane, Noni Mkhonto, Kaylan Sabbadin, Alida Senekal and Luciano Zuppa, with a child cast. This review is premised on the performances of: Siphesihle Dube, Dani Friedman, Nandika Ganasen, Ariella Gnesin, Anya Lotz, Karla Lotz, Henrique Neves, Gabrielle Shapiro, Demi Toker, and Catherine Traub. Other children involved in the production are: Leo Cropley, Gabrielle de Gama, Zandisile Edgar, Nikhita Hermon, Rio Immerman, Amber Kaganson, Montana Lever, Aishwarya Moodley, Christina Moschides, Beyonce Mpumlwana, Leora Myers, Asande Mzizi, Sophia Pearse, Jessica Peters, Mia Sartini-Kruger, Wandi Sikwane, Sky Sluzki, Kieran Wagner, and Jessica Wands until August 5 at the People’s Theatre, Joburg Theatre complex in Braamfontein.