Tue Mar 6 2018
ANNIE 2018: “Everybody wins. Everyone is a star.” The entire cast of Leighton Buzzard Children’s Theatre, over one-hundred-and-twenty performers, took to the stage of Vandyke Upper School on the last weekend of February 2018 to present “Annie Junior”. Six shows, three casts, two days – a mission nothing short of a miracle would pull off: this will go down in the history books as a spectacular showcase for young people, their talents and commitment on display here embodying the spirit of director Sally Allsopp’s generous company. “Annie” is a Broadway classic, let alone a fable of family, fortune and love. The beloved musical marks the journey of an orphan searching for her parents in glitzy New York City, escaping cruel orphan chief Miss Hannigan, finding a father-figure in billionaire Oliver Warbucks, making new friends be they dogs or presidents, and learning a thing or two about how love is all around you. Our title orphan was brought to life by three charismatic and enchanting performers: Imogen Turner with poise and heart, Isabella Kavanagh with confidence and charm, and seven-year-old India Turner with affection and willpower. All three glowed under the spotlight, anchoring this story with remarkable assuredness, especially when singing familiar solo numbers ‘Maybe’ and ‘Tomorrow’. And they weren’t alone, for the younger ranks of LBCT were stellar as the orphans, their cute smiles and expressions of ‘Hard Knock Life’ proof of their joy and enthusiasm they bring in buckets to the group’s weekly Saturday rehearsals. Enthusiasm is precisely what some of the older kids enlivened a number of character roles that “Annie” privileges a director in casting. Given there were three cast members behind each role, I’ll just go out and say everyone playing Bundles, Lieutenant Ward, Star-to-Be, and Burt Healey all excelled in the briefest of moments – congratulations to you all! In a show filled with story hustle and bustle, these small character moments “Annie” gifts youngsters the chance to play were, well, expertly played. Bundles was cheeky, Ward smarmily serious, Star-to-Be beaming and Healey dashingly delightful. “Who cares what you’re wearing… it’s what you wear from ear to ear, and not from head to toe – that matters.” Props to Summer Blunden, Effie Holford and Eva Gee, who were composed in the costume of Annie’s dog Sandy, making the role sweet and funny with aplomb. And fellow orphan Molly, who dares to humour Hannigan, was captured with grace by the polished Amelia Kendall, Jemma Parker-Naples and Eliza Walsh, who all got the honour of opening the show. As for the youth ensemble, this group of teenagers complimented their numerous chorus parts with individuality and uniformity, singing and dancing in their entrance (‘I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here’) and final reprise (‘Together At Last’). Breaking the record, it seems, for the number of costume changes a performer can do backstage within an hour, it was a charming spectacle to see the cast’s older players, a tight-knit group, whip through song after song, changing character from handsome mansion staff to energetic citizens of ‘NYC’, dressed in sparkly and sometimes scarf-y outfits. On a weekend where last-minute momentum was required, the youth section proved up to the challenge, their commitment never sauntering, even in the sixth and final show. An awesome bunch they are. In a show which often witnessed the younger cast holding their own against the older leagues, our leading cast this time, played by those in sixth-form or exam-bound, were strong across the board. President Roosevelt, who somehow shows up to right all the wrongs with a ‘New Deal’, was perfectly played by a sternly, serious-voiced Loki Chappell, while butler Drake gave Robert Beilby the chance to inject his own character into a celebratory kick in learning the staff get to party celebrating Annie’s adoption. Loyal secretary to Warbucks, Grace, was beautifully diplomatic, comforting and supporting, as Lorna Winfield and Lottie Hayman proved. Miss Hannigan, an outrageously fun part to play, was performed with glorious abandon by the stern Molly Collins and unyielding Rebekah Beare – both swung for the fences in their interpretations and earned all the laughs and respect they got, from kids and audience alike. Comedy couple Rooster and Lily, the meanies who disguise as Annie’s parents for the cash, were hilariously portrayed – Zack Charlton Bennett, Jevon Dominguez, Ella Fox and Cliona McGivern were all hammy, loopy and eerie in their respective roles, bringing an edgy and improvised specificity to their ‘Easy Street’ act, which was entertaining too. And leading man Jacob Townson made an excellent Oliver Warbucks, demonstrating a range of chops as the show unfolded – deadpan on the radio, authoritative in his own living room and gentil and generous when sharing the stage with his young counterparts. Townson’s Warbucks was played as the billionaire who became kinder as he realised what mattered, and it was outstanding to watch. ‘Outstanding’ is just one superlative I could use to describe the energy backstage too while I was there. Co-director Hayley Green stepped up in an incredible way and was an absolutely fantastic leader behind the scenes, while Callie Beare and Samantha Peplow proved invaluable and supportive chaperones for the children in the cast. Musical director David Allsopp was a thorough, generous and wonderful coach while the weekend progressed. Owen Allsopp, Marc Kilroy and Luke Knight were essential in the lighting box and technically sound (joke intended). Nathan Rutherford and Graham Mountford were reliable wingmen, Helen Mountford was a continuity wizard, Josie Derland a sublime choreographer, Amanda White a front-of-house professional, our army of youth helpers were magical, and not forgetting Annie Rourke, who was involved in the production’s collaboration with charity Dogs for Good, which “Annie”’s funds will go towards. There is no doubt this particular incarnation of “Annie”, in this moment, with this cast, in LBCT’s history will be remembered. Everyone was amazing. This show proved, onstage and off, that this group is at its best when people work together as a team. Here is a lovely big family full of generous citizens of our local towns who bring heart and passion to everything they do, and so, yet again, Sally Allsopp’s ethos for LBCT was brought to the audiences with love, and felt. We do what we do because we believe, wholeheartedly, that young people are capable of incredible things. We teach them the art of stagecraft while having fun and, in return, every performer shines under the spotlight when their moment comes. Everybody wins. Everyone feels special. Everyone is a star. In the spirit of the orphan who never gave up searching for her parents, or just love, I can’t think of a cause that’s more rewarding or positive than what I witnessed this weekend. When it comes together, it’s a symphony. I’ve never seen such a beautiful thing, or felt so proud. We “don’t need anything but you”, LBCT.