Playing orphan Annie on opening night in Milton Keynes was Freya Yates who simply oozes talent and charm. She delivers all the key songs brilliantly and really is one to watch for the future. There's actually a trio of youngsters in the role of Annie – Taziva-Faye Katsande and Ava Smith take it in turns – while there are also three teams of young actors playing the orphans who reside at tyrannical Miss Hannigan's orphanage.
While the show's best known song is probably Tomorrow, for me it's You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile and It's A Hard Knock Life which top it as Annie joins forces with the other youngsters with scrubbing brushes and buckets in hand. The show's other key songs are often accompanied by some great dance routines and while Maybe and Something Was Missing pull at the heartstrings, Easy Street, NYC and I Don't Need Anything But You are straight out of the 1930s in their style.
All six orphans are simply brilliant in the acting department although with their American accents and slightly screechy voices, at times it was difficult to understand what was being said or sung, especially as the orchestra tended to overpower them.
On Monday it was 'Team Rockefeller' on duty, comprising Honey-Rose Quinn as Molly, Tilly Stephany as Duffy, Francesca Robibson as Tessie, Aliya Bashir as Pepper, Chance Quaye as July and Tori Ryan as Kate while 'Team Chrysler' and 'Team Empire State' take their turns.
Impressive as the billionaire capitalist Oliver 'Daddy' Warbucks is Alex Bourne who is a dead ringer for BBC1's Apprentice hard man Claude Littner! As an orphan himself, he sends his personal assistant Grace Farrell (Carolyn Maitland) to the New York orphanage to choose an orphan who gets to spend a luxury Christmas with him and the staff at his billionaire mansion.
Needless to say, it's Annie who gets the nod although it's Warbucks' loveable assistant Grace who befriend the little girl and makes her feel right at home – I'm Gonna Like It Here. However on their first meeting Warbucks looks Annie up and down and then exclaims to Grace "orphans are boys!", although the little red-topped youngster ends up melting the hard-nosed businessman's heart.
With Miss Hannigan worried that she's losing her grip on Annie's future, she hatches a plan to scupper the little girls happiness, especially after Warbucks offers a $50,000 reward to find Annie's real parents. That when the cunning Rooster and his gangster's mol-like girlfriend Lily (played by Richard Meek and Jenny Gayner) enter the story.
The spiv-like Rooster knows how to milk a situation as he's in cahoots with his drunken orphanage-owning sister, and together with Lily, his equally trashy other half, they convince Warbucks that Annie is actually their long-lost offspring – and they even have the other half of a necklace to prove it!
Along the way we meet wheelchair-bound US President Franklin D Roosevelt (Gary Davis) who Annie inspires to restore America's ailing economy while just in time, the smitten Warbucks learns that Rooster and Lily (aka Mr & Mrs Mudge) are impostors and that opens the door for the billionaire to adopt our little heroine… and that guarantees a happy ending!
Alex Bourne has a fabulous voice and plays the part of Warbucks to perfection, just as Albert Finney (who died earlier this year) did in the original film. As for Carolyn Maitland, she makes a wonderful Grace and possesses an equally memorable voice.
And finally a quick mention of stray dog Sandy (real name Amber), a cute five-year-old Labradoodle, who dashes across the stage throughout the show and is spoilt rotten by the cast. It's amazing what a bag of treats can do!
Annie the Musical is a visual feast with clever lighting, superb choreography and a great set while those memorable numbers stay with you long after you've left the theatre. In fact Your Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile!
Annie The Musical plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this coming Saturday with tickets available from the Box Office, by calling 0844 871 7652 or by visiting www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (booking fees apply).