Above: The orphans have a tough life at Miss Hannigan's orphanage. Right: Craig Revel Horwood as gin-swigging Miss Hannigan.

Annie is simply fab-u-lous family entertainment!

Alan Wooding reviews the popular musical Annie starring Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood 

If you’re planning on going to a theatre this week, then you’re in for a real treat if it’s in Milton Keynes as the musical Annie is the perfect show for the whole family with plenty of familiar songs guaranteed to get your feet tapping.

      When Annie first opened in London’s West End in 1978 – 12 months after its Broadway debut – it became a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic while five years on, the 1982 film version starring Albert Finney as billionaire Oliver Warbucks became a huge hit all over again. 

      The current touring version features the brilliant Alex Bourne as ‘Daddy’ Warbucks alongside versatile Strictly Come Dancing judge and top choreographer Craig Revel Horwood. He plays tyrannical orphanage proprietor Miss Aggie Hannigan, the talented 58-year-old Australian having taken over the role following the untimely death of Paul O’Grady back in the spring.

      Set in the 1930s Great Depression in New York, Annie and her fellow orphans live a life of drudgery in Miss Hannigan’s rundown orphanage and they are often fearful of her in her drunken state. But a collective “We love you Miss Hannigan" always seemed to do the trick!

      While the show's best known song is probably Tomorrow, when Annie joins forces with the other youngsters with scrubbing brushes and buckets in hand, It’s A Hard Knock Life is a true show stopper. 

     However things suddenly change for our little heroine when Warbucks’ personal assistant Grace Farrell (Amelia Adams) is asked by her employer to invite an orphan to his mansion for Christmas… Annie being simply in the right place at the right time!

      Although he has a dislike for children, Warbucks declares “orphans are boys”, yet he quickly mellows and takes a real shine to Annie (played by Harlie Barthram on Monday’s opening night), and he promises that he’ll do all that he can to help find her biological parents. 

      But as soon as the billionaire businessman offers up a $50,000 reward, Miss Hannigan’s crooked spiv-like brother Rooster (Paul French) together with his gangster moll-style girlfriend Lily St Regis (Billie-Kay), hatch a plan to get their grubby hands on it!

      And as Rooster and Lily pose as Ralph and Shirley Mudge claiming that they are Annie’s real parents, they almost get away with it until the FBI and their boss J Edgar Hoover become involved at the request of the wheelchair-bound US President Franklin D Roosevelt played by David Burrows.

      We also meet smarmy radio presenter Bert Healy (Lukin Simmonds) who leads the

Oxident toothpaste advertising commercial  with the catchy Your Never Truly Dressed Without A Smile.

      Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s musical score also includes the wonderful I'm Gonna Like It Here, Something Was Missing, NYC and I Don't Need Anything But You all of which appear to 

come straight out of the 1930s in the same musical style.

     Craig Revel Horwood is ‘A-maz-ing’ as the gin-soaked Miss Hannigan and he brings the house down with his creepy but witty Little Girls. And when he’s joined by Rooster and Lily in Easy Street… it’s absolutely Fab-u-lous! He certainly makes the role of Miss Hannigan his own while his dancing – even with that replacement hip! – was excellent as was his deep singing voice.

      The show's acting, dancing and singing is first class, especially by the six other orphans in It’s A Hard-Knock Life with little Molly (Chloe Angiama) a real joy.

      Meanwhile Annie’s Maybe is a true classic and is reprised throughout the show. There are actually three teams of youngsters rotated during the week while special mention is necessary of Annie’s lovely stray four-legged Labradoodle companion Sandy (Amber) who never misses the chance to enjoy a tasty titbit!

      Colin Richmond’s clever set design is highlighted by massive pieces of jigsaw puzzle while there are swift and seamless changes between Miss Hannigan’s orphanage, the Warbucks mansion and the New York City streets. 

      The whole show is superbly directed by Nikolai Foster, the music – which at times is a little overpowering – being provided by an eight piece pit band under the direction of Joshua Griffith. However the songs stay with you long after you leave the theatre and I actually found myself humming Your Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile on my way home to write this review.

      Annie certainly gives the whole family a fabulous evening full of fun, laughter, happiness (and sadness) while it plays

Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 12 August with tickets priced from £13 available on 0844 871 7615 or online at ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes