Piccadilly Theatre, London ★★★✩✩
THE problem with Miranda Hart is that it’s impossible not to like her. Even as Miss Hannigan, the child-hating, tyrannical ruler of an orphanage in Depression-era New York, the Call The Midwife star’s every gesture — from swigs of gin to the seductive poses struck whenever a man walks into the room — suggests incurable romantic.
Actually she’s more lovable than likeable. Never mind that when her criminal brother hatches a plan to make make 50,000 bucks by pretending to be the long-lost father of little orphan Annie, Hart’s Hannigan barely hesitates to join the plot even when she discovers it involves killing musical theatre’s cutest star.
Oh well, we’re forced to think, let’s pretend that didn’t happen and carry on loving Hart for what the big-eyed and big-boned star does best — generally being the supremely talented comedy actress that won the nation’s hearts with her eponymous sitcom.
Singing, however, is not her forte. So Nikolai Foster’s production of Charles Strouse’s Broadway classic has to look elsewhere for musical talent. Specifically at Jonny Fines as Hannigan’s weasel-like brother and Annie herself (played on this night by Ruby Stokes) the courageous foundling who spends Christmas with billionaire businessman Warbucks (Alex Bourne).
Young Annie sings this show’s best known song Tomorrow with such optimism it inspires President Roosevelt to cure the country of Depression with his job-creating New Deal scheme.
God knows London needs a feel-good show. And no doubt Hart’s fans will come flocking.
But there are just too many false notes struck by this dated musical, not least Warbuck’s somewhat icky proposal to adopt 11-year-old Annie, for which he almost goes down on one knee.
These days Annie might be better off with Hannigan.