Theatre in Wales

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An Angelic "Annie"

Aberystwyth Summer Musical

Annie , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , July 25, 2003
“Father once spoke of an angel / I used to dream he’d appear…”

The heroine’s lost parent’s ancient promise doesn’t disappoint her. Appear he does. The enigmatic man calls for the girl, then sweeps her off her feet, and away to his decadent abode. “These things do happen.” This guardian angel is hypnotically paternal and almost supernaturally omnipotent, a secular Messiah, but admittedly not a reincarnation of the girl’s biological father. It will take her the two-act span of the play to accept that her origins really are lost for good, no matter how desperately she believes her angel can return them to her, and that she must let go and move on…

This is the plot of the musical Annie, playing at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre through 30 August. It could just as adequately describe The Phantom of the Opera, particularly in this production, in which the role of little orphan Annie’s saviour Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks is played by Peter Karrie. Billed in the program as “the definitive Phantom,” Karrie twice won the distinction “World’s Most Popular Phantom” which the Phantom of the Opera Appreciation Society (POTOAS) awards annually based on a poll of its members. POTOAS’s judgement seems pretty accurate. Karrie’s Warbucks strongly recalls the Phantom in his pretence at high self-regard and control over cowed fellow mortals thinly concealing a tight Gothic knot of demoralising loneliness and psychic pain.

Karrie’s tenor voice is beautiful, and his ability to act, well, while singing, is a joy to hear. On 10 October of this year, he will return to the Arts Centre to give a concert performance, but now, in Annie, he shifts smoothly from brazen belting to a softer, confessional tone. He conveys indecision and self-doubt with a voice that wavers, but only at calculated moments. His singing speaks the volumes the lyrics don’t. Indeed, Karrie’s powers appear squandered on this role, with its predictable character ‘journey’ and entirely wooden dialogue. He only has three songs, and we don’t hear him sing until six scenes into Act One. In Warbuck’s upbeat moments, it looks like Karrie is merely going through the paces, acknowledging the saccharine unbelievability of the role with an openness that the Phantom, sardonic scourge of mediocrity in performance art, would appreciate.

Elizabeth Marsh steals the show as the evil, alcoholic orphanage manageress Miss Hannigan. A Jekyll-and-Hyde type, she acts the role of supreme meanie while listening to sappy romance serials on the radio and stewing in jealousy of little Annie’s ability to snag billionaire “Daddy” Warbucks. Marsh skilfully mines Miss Hannigan’s complexity, illustrating each of the character’s personae with a unique combination of vocal and physical expression and objectives. Marsh’s singing is wonderful, too, unfaltering even at the heights of her character’s craziness. Martin Johnston winningly revives U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, probably the show’s juiciest cameo role. Caroline Peel, alternating with Mari Wyn Lewis in the title role, sings well and with confidence. I hope we’ll hear more from her as she grows as an actress and reaches for more challenging roles. The other girls fully realise the alternating pathos and comedy the script demands. They seem to be having fun onstage, which is a credit to director Richard Cheshire and others at the Arts Centre, and might get some of the many children in the audience thinking that they’d like to get up there and act, too.

Oddly, we don’t see as much of Annie’s take-no-prisoners attitude as the dialogue suggests we should (“wanna make something of it?”). In Richard Cheshire’s direction, Annie conquers by cuteness and passive-aggression, not resolute confrontation of adversity. Also, there is zero observable chemistry between Warbucks and his secretary Grace Farrell (Jenny Gayner). This is disappointing because Miss Farrell’s silent campaign to make the boss marry her is her only real goal. Helping him to rescue an unfortunate ward of the state is magnanimous on her part, but classical romance conventionally ends with the reunification of the nuclear family, and Warbucks can’t replace Annie’s two parents all by his lonesome. Miss Hannigan and her slimy scheming brother (Chris Hornby) point out that Annie is a ticket to ‘Easy Street’ waiting to be used; Miss Farrell knows this, too, but is far too clever to say so.

Anyway, younger children may follow Annie’s Cinderella story with glee, and go home singing “Tomorrow” or “Maybe,” which get enough reprises for anybody to learn the lyrics from one performance. Marsh’s performance is a great reward for chaperoning duty, and you can hear a teaser of the way Karrie will perform in October, only a couple of tomorrows away.

Reviewed by: Rebecca Nesvet

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