Review: Annie, NE Musicals York, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or at

YOU may not have heard of the character Grandma Annie in Annie, but here she is at the start of NE Musicals York's new tweak on one of Broadway's most familiar musicals.

Over here, Granny Annie would have more of a ring to it, but this is an American show that opens in New York 2019 as Grandma (Sandra Rowan), now 87, regales grandson Henry (Henry Barker) with the story of her life as an orphan.

On opening night, this sequence is somewhat tentative, as director Steve Tearle goes back in time to 1943 with the aid of projections of US Presidents from Trump to Franklin D Roosevelt, segueing into the opening ensemble number, not from Annie, but The Greatest Showman.

"We've put a new opening to the show, while still keeping all the amazing values," said Steve. In truth, there will be no tomorrow for this somewhat cheeky "nose job"; you cannot foresee other companies following suit, and the 1943 setting sits somewhat awkwardly too, given that Annie is usually firmly rooted in 1933 in the slough of the Great Depression.

Consequently, references to Mr Hitler and the Second World War have to be shoe-horned into the story alongside the Depression backdrop, as Roosevelt seeks his "New Deal".

So, if these tweaks are not entirely convincing, how about Steve's assertion of "keeping all those amazing values"? What he has done is create a community show where the emphasis is on as many young performers as possible experiencing the buzz of being on stage in such a big Broadway show. Tearle and Elle Roberts' ensemble choreography may have to be cramped as a result, but the enthusiasm is undeniable.

For all the re-boot, at heart it is still the story of little orphan Annie (hugely confident Libby Anderson on Tuesday, alternating with Lana Harris) charming everyone's hearts with her pluck and positivity, despite a next-to-nothing start in the New York City orphanage run by the cavalier, embittered Miss Hannigan (Lee Harris). Harris is gamely following in the drag steps of Paul O'Grady and Craig Revel Horwood, albeit he does so in more of a Les Dawson, less flamboyant, manner.

Annie of course finds a new home and family in billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Steve Tearle himself, head newly shaven, manner kindly, spirit twinkly)and his personal secretary Grace Farrell (Emma Louise Dickinson, the show's best singer).

Kevin Bowes' punk-haired Rooster and Perri -Ann Barley's Lily St Regis have fun as the baddies; James O'Neil enjoys switching between oily singer Burt Healy and stern President Roosevelt,+ and Richard Rogers' butler Drake is suitably urbane.

Aside from an errant cinema frontage with Julia Roberts' name on it, Tearle's projections are effective, and Jessica Douglas leads her musical forces with aplomb, four renditions of Tomorrow et al.

Charles Hutchinson