THERE’S something very magical about witnessing your children’s first introduction to musical theatre — and not just any show, but ‘Annie’.
Their eyes lit up in delight when the girl with the curly auburn hair walked onto the Cork Opera House stage, and from that moment, they were mesmerised by her every word and note — just as I had been, all those years ago, back in 1982, when she sang, danced and acted her way into my heart, on the television screens.
Director Ronan Phelan said he felt a huge weight of responsibility to this story, when asked to work on Annie for the opera house. He was acutely aware that it has such a special place in people’s hearts and was an important part of their childhoods - he knew that many of the audience members (like me!) would be bringing their own children to see the show, hoping they would fall in love with it, as we had done.
He need not have worried about doing the musical justice, he went over and beyond. In fact I think I enjoyed Saturday night’s opening show more than my kids if that was at all possible!
Star of the show was of course Annie, wonderfully cast — there are two young Cork girls playing the role, Lasairfhiona de Brun and Faye Herlihy, we saw Faye in action, aged just 13. I think it more than fair to say she was even greater than the Annie of my youth, (aka actress Aileen Marie Quinn). That smile, that voice, a true rising talent, I’ve no doubt we’ll be seeing much more of this young girl.
Staying with the younger cast, all the orphans were amazing, in particular Molly (played on the night by Liv Amerie Gregorio), aged just seven years old (can you believe it!) who was fantastic in every scene, she really captured our hearts.
The older cast were also sublime, from Miss Hannigan (Hilda Fay) to Oliver Warbucks (Nicholas Pound), Grave Farrell (Charlotte McCurry)— all wonderfully cast. As were Rooster Hannigan (Michael Sands), Lily St Regis (Seanan O’Hanlon) Franklin Roosevelt (Michael Grennell).
The ensemble — their dancing, singing and acting were simply pure perfection.
And let’s not forget Annie’s four legged friend Sandy, who also stole all our hearts, with his appearances.
It was all about the music and the audience, both young and old, were at their happiest when they were singing along to the Annie favourites; ‘Hard Knock Life’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Little Girls’, ‘Easy Street’ and ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’. It was wonderful to hear the live orchestra, with conductor John O’Brien leading the way.
The amazing choreography by Philip Connaughton was followed through with precision by the actors, every step, twirl, jump, spot on - with bursts and spurts of razzle dazzle to keep us enthralled and the optimism levels at a high.
I loved the simplicity of the staging, the changes throughout were flawlessly done, as we were transported from the downtown streets of NY, to the glum orphanage, a millionaires abode, a cinema… even to the president’s office. A nod here to Set Designer Maree Kearns and Lighting Designer Zia Bergin-Holly.
The costumes, by Costume Designer Joan Hickson, were spot on too, from the grubby garbs of the orphans to the neatly pressed and polished staff uniforms at Warbucks home, the glitzy golden number strung on by Miss Hannigan and who could forget, Annie’s signature red dress and green coat.
And while it looked and sounded the part, what about its message? Did it ring through? As Ronan Phelan the director said: “Annie is parable; a tale of resistance and resilience to bullies, despair and pessimism. It inspires dreams, it rewards hope and it demands that we sing.” It certainly did all that and more.
We should all be so proud that our opera house here in Cork is so committed to homegrown musical theatre - giving local actors a chance to shine their very brightest.
As Eibhlin Gleeson said: “Making musical theatre is a hugely important part of what Cork Opera House does. Cork Opera House is unique in that it is the only venue in Ireland producing large scale musical theatre of this nature. We are determined to continue to make world class shoes on our stage…” To do this they need your support - Annie runs at Cork Opera House until Sunday August 20, go see it.
For tickets see www.corkoperahouse.ie Times: 7.30pm & 2pm (Matinees) Tickets: €20, €25, €30 & €35 | Family Pass €80 – €120* (booking fee applies online and telephone).