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Theatre Review (Singapore): Annie at Marina Bay Sands

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Base Entertainment’s latest offering at Marina Bay Sands is Annie, scheduled to run from 10th of July to the 5th of August 2012.

Annie tells the story of orphan Annie (Ella Crossland) who, along with other orphans, spends her days doing chores and being abused by Miss Hannigan (Susan Pollard) who runs the orphanage. One day, Annie finds herself visited by Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks (David McAlister), who offers the lucky girl a chance to stay with him for awhile.

In the course of her stay with Warbucks, Annie makes good with the rest of the Warbucks household, which includes assistant Grace Ferrel (Simone Craddock) and butler Drake (Tony Wilkins), and even gets Warbucks’s friend President Franklin Roosevelt (Joseph Connors) to remain optimistic through the 1930s Depression, which is when this story is set.

Of course, there are stumbling blocks to Annie’s rise to happiness, and as Annie searches for her biological mother and father, with the help of Daddy Warbucks, Miss Hannigan’s brother Rooster (Michael Watson) and his girlfriend Lily (Emily Trebicki) plot to pretend to be Annie’s parents in order to claim the reward from Warbucks. Through it all, Annie’s never-ending optimism and eternal happiness drives the story to its happy conclusion.

The musical starts off with the orphans in Miss Hannigan’s orphanage complaining about thier lives in the fun and catchy songs “Maybe” and  “Hard Knock Life”. The orphans – played by a variety of Singapore-based young actors between the ages of six and 13 – sing very well, with choreographed movements synched and co-ordinated as a group. The youngest of the lot is six-year-old Chloe Choo who played Molly and certainly brought out the “Oohs” and “Aahs” from the audience as she caught everyone’s attention with her spritely performance.

Older actors formed the ensemble of men and women facing the hard times of the Depression and making their fate known in another catchy tune, the well harmonised “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover”, while Ella Crosslands nails all her songs with her sweet and clear voice, especially in the well-known “Tomorrow”. The acting is generally very good, as is the level of singing, although only the few songs named above were really standout ones; many of the other songs needed to be revamped musically.

Also, while Crosslands who plays the titular character is a good singer, comfortably reaching the notes of each song, she doesn’t appear natural or comfortable in many of the scenes, especially when she has to dance or perform along with the other cast. She does better when her performance is solo and only calls for her to sing to the audience, as she is less stiff and more relaxed then.

The dog who played Sandy and appeared sporadically through the story is also not as well trained as he should have been, and often would look offstage, probably at his trainer. In the end, when he had to bring a flower out to Annie, the poor dog was so spooked by the ensemble on stage singing “Tomorrow” that he quickly turned around and ran offstage!

However, the set and lighting are superb, the former being supremely detailed and seamlessly transforming from the stark and cold orphanage to Warbucks’s spanking mansion right before the audience’s eyes. The costumes too are a delight to see, showing a range of 1930s fashion from formal to informal wear.

The dialogue could be updated as most of the humour feels irrelevant and unfunny, and the story itself could have more depth. There’s no denying that Annie‘s meant more for youngsters.

Having said that, though, what’s wrong with adults dreaming and being childishly optimistic? In today’s world, and at a time, where people are losing jobs, finding it hard to make a living, unable to pay their bills, and where the adult world is full of “You can’t do that” and “That’ll never happen” – in fact all too similar to the era depicted in Annie – maybe what we need to remind ourselves is that sometimes a child’s optimism is all we need to believe that there’s always going to be a better “Tomorrow”!

With all its shortcomings, Annie showed me that it’s still as popular a musical as ever because the old adage of holding onto hope, and believing in the future, with the faith found in a child, can still be every bit as inspiring and uplifting a message today as it was in 1930. And I am sure with the continued run of Annie at Marina Bay Sands, this musical will only get tighter and better, for that’s what Annie would’ve told us to believe in! 

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.