If the thought of watching Annie these days inspires a slight feeling of “been there, done that”, director Nikolai Foster offers the perfect riposte at Southampton this week.
Foster’s production is vibrant, fresh, fun and also strikingly poignant, everything you could hope for from a musical to which he’s given the oomph back - the tale of a little orphan with a big heart, a girl who just by being bright, cheery and optimistic somehow manages to get the whole of Depression-hit America back on its feet.
Obviously the role of Annie is central, but in Isabella Pappas the producers have uncovered a real gem. Isabella gives a delightful performance, setting the tone for the whole production with a charm which is never grating, a sincerity which is never cloying.
Elsewhere Alex Bourne is excellent as billionaire businessman Mr Warbucks who learns how to become Daddy Warbucks, just one of the people whose life is transformed by all the decency that Annie embodies. Bourne movingly shows a man discovering there’s more to life than heaping up the dosh.
But maybe the night’s biggest surprise is TV dance judge Craig Revel Horwood as the ghastly, tyrannical orphanage boss, the awful Miss Hannigan.
You feel it’s pure bums-on-seats motivation which has put Horwood in the role in a summer in which, after David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, you have to wonder just how many actresses Southampton is going to do out of a job.
By the end of the night, you still can’t quite see the reason for the casting, but there’s no doubting Horwood carries it off - and with considerable style.
The danger was always going to be turning the role into something just a little bit pantomimey, but Craig Revel Horwood keeps it all just the right side of she’s-behind-you - an important ingredient on a night which exceeds all expectations. Great songs, great orchestration, terrific choreography and lovely performances all round.