Adelaide Theatre Academy’s holiday offering of “Annie Jr ” is smooth, slick, “in your face” and great fun. Along with an enthusiastic audience I saw the ORPHAN cast perform their first show of three. They were very good indeed. I was particularly impressed with all of the chorus and group work in which coordination of both voice and movement provided the essential backbone of the show. Choreography by Caley Watt was simple, smooth and a satisfying pleasure to observe throughout. Due, I’m sure, to judicious direction from Billie-Rose Russell, the stage was used generously from the opening frieze of the Orphans to the vibrant insistence of “Easy Street” and everything in between. Projected imagery provided the right amount of scene suggestion and was an apt backdrop to Bob Weatherley’s well lit stage. The simplicity of the production enabled the energy and enthusiasm of each and every cast member to shine through. And shine through it did!
Ophelia Farmer was an appealing well crafted Annie. Her vocal presentation of numbers like “Maybe” and the iconic “Tomorrow” was clear and faultless, thoroughly deserving of the rousing accolades from an eager audience. The rendition of “It’s a hard knock life” by Annie and the Orphans was well sold and memorable. Tilka Wheal’s portrayal of Oliver Starbucks was controlled and effective. I love the line (delivered to Grace) “..and find out what Democrats eat!” It’s a pertinent reminder of the current political chasm in today’s USA. Lachlan Anderson as Rooster with Olivia Niejalke as his partner in crime Lily (aka Ralph and Shirley Mudge) are an effective comedic duo. Their rendition, along with Miss Hannigan, of the swinging, toe-tapping “Easy Street” was a memorable energetic moment. Grace, played by Clare Wilks was a nicely drawn character, both elegant and purposeful and, I thought, a notable cameo in this production. The central “villain of the piece”, Miss Hannigan, was cleverly played by a feisty and zestful Amelia Boys. Amelia used the stage with ease, her diction was excellent and the rendition of “Little Girls” yet another notable moment in this even and entertaining production.
*The SERVANTS cast, too, was well received by the matinee audience. Emma Sayers as Annie had a delightful blend of sweetness and sassiness in her well-controlled performance. She sang the well known and loved songs with conviction and power, especially in her middle range. Thomas Tirrell was an understanding Oliver Warbucks and confidently handled his signature song “NYC”. He was ably supported by Lucy Parkes as Warbucks’ secretary, Grace. She was contained, thoughtful and had an inner strength.
Bennett was a lively Miss Hannigan and was at her best when bellowing at her miserable charges in the orphanage. She also related well to Rooster and Lily in their dialogue, and together they made a big number of “Easy Street”. Jenna Saint was a snappy and cocky Rooster. Her timing and characterisation were very secure. Alongside Rooster was Carla Vannetiello who was convincing as the brash Lily, showing a good stage presence and a clear understanding of the sense of the role.
The “hero” of the piece was the attention to detail given to movement on stage. For such a young cast it was an admirable, noticeable and consistent aspect from start to finish. As an ensemble piece showcasing a range of talented young people, this production of “Annie Jr” is a worthy outcome for the Adelaide Theatre Academy.
(*SERVANTS cast performance reviewed by David Smith.)