AnnieJr continues at the Arts Theatre, London until 31 August.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★
Stiles and Drewe’s The 3 Little Pigs continues at the Palace Theatre, London until 6 September.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★
If you’re into pigging out on children’s shows that grown-ups can enjoy almost as much as little ones, why not try the West End double-header that mixes old with new, a kiddie-sized Annie and the latest offering from those master tunesmiths, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe?
You can do AnnieJr and those cheesy songs like ‘Maybe’, ‘It’s the Hard Knock Life’ and ‘Tomorrow’ in 65 minutes at the Arts in the morning, have fish fingers in Leicester Square and a listen to a busker doing a Paul Simon song rather well, then stroll up to the Palace for The 3 Little Pigs.
Stiles and Drewe’s catchy 55-minute spin on the old Big Bad Wolf fairytale is making its London bow after a very brief provincial tryout, and while not quite in the class of Betty Blue Eyes or, in a very different vein, Soho Cinders, they manage to write uniquely in that they understand what children want without making parents feel like spare parts.
It’s a newish show rather than a brand new one, having been commissioned by Singapore Rep in 2012 and has done excellent business since in China, USA and Finland.
And it’s easily the more polished of the two shows, as indeed it should be with five experienced professionals in the cast, whereas it is the enthusiasm of youth that makes AnnieJr worth seeing.
Simon Webbe’s funky and bluesy Wolf, Alison Jiear’s Mother Pig and her three offspring, the brilliantly named Bar, Bee and Q, make the most of Drewe’s often-hilarious, punny lyrics, and it is the bookish Q, delightfully played by Daniel Buckley, who makes the biggest impression with ‘A Little House’.
Jiear’s ‘A Real Pig Sty’ shows off an exceptional voice clearly far too good for Britain’s Got Talent, while singer-songwriter Webbe exhibits no lasting damage from his Strictly Come Dancing exertions as the voice is as velvety as ever on ‘A Bit Misunderstood’ and ‘I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff’.
Leanne Jones, always a joy to listen to, is a very environmentally ‘green’ Bee and Taofique Folarin a fitness-freak Bar in a story with a definite message: work together rather than singly to defeat the enemy –- and don’t forget to look after Mum!
Jason Denvir’s brilliant set is transformed from three separate slides in the blink of an eye into three houses of straw, sticks and brick, the first two crumbling under the wolf’s huffing and puffing but Q’s more thoughtful brick edifice defying all his dastardly efforts.
The set was almost the star turn for my grand-daughter who has now given up on “awesome” as the mot juste to express pleasure. These days the acting, singing, dancing, set and story are “epic” instead, so her Ma could well be drafted in for the second sitting of this ‘pig-nic’.
AnnieJr, on the other hand, is part of the P2P performing arts programme that keeps nurturing and inspiring young performers, many still at school.
This reduction of the ever-popular Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin musical uses a cast of hundreds over its five-week run, giving experience of the big-time than can only improve everyone involved.
Eight different girls do orphan Annie on different days, another eight tackle Miss Hannigan, half a dozen lads try to age into Daddy Warbucks, not easy, and so on, right down to the smaller roles and feisty ‘chorus girls’ from the New York Municipal Orphanage.
When I saw it, Matilda Hopkins showed commendable acting and singing skills as the nauseatingly cute Annie and Lily Humphrey’s Miss Hannigan was a splendidly evil creation. But the American accent made the diction of one or two, even from a good seat, hard to follow and this Daddy rarely looked comfortable.
Directed by Matthew Chandler for Stephen Garcia’s P2P Productions, AnnieJr has its heart in the right place and the songs – well we know all the words, don’t we, and that’s often half the battle in winning the kids over.