Review: Annie, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday

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THE songs may be saccharine, the accents may be hammy, but you’ve got to hand it to Annie – it’s a great show.

At the helm was Lauren Arnison who, though not the best I’ve seen in the role, still put in a gutsy performance. Though she seemed quite old for the 11-year-old character, she had real stage presence as the fiery, flame-haired orphan, desperate to find the parents who abandoned her.

The group scenes were some of the better in the show and I was particularly impressed by the youngsters from Northern Star Theatre Arts, based at Sunderland High School, who played the orphans.

They acted and sang as though they belonged in the touring production instead of just appearing for the Wearside stint.

They shone in It’s The Hard Knock Life and gave it their all.

It was Su Pollard, however, who stole the show. It’s the second time I’ve seen the actress in the role of little girl-hater Miss Hannigan and she never fails to impress – I wish she was in more scenes.

She’s a great comic actress who commands the stage and her voice in tracks such as Little Girls and Easy Street is simply superb.

Indeed, it’s the music in Annie which helps to make it such a good night’s entertainment. Unlike some musicals where only the title track is well-known, this has a host of toe-tappingly familiar tunes such as It’s A Hard Knock Life, You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile and, of course, Tomorrow.

The “awwww” factor was provided by Sandy, who was the perfect canine complement to Lauren’s Annie. I’m always waiting for the dogs in this musical to misbehave, but they never do, they are true thespians.

Leading Lauren also had a good rapport with David McAlister as Daddy Warbucks. His is an excellent voice, full of passion and punch, in NYC and Something was Missing.