Miss Hannigan’s orphanage has a new head honcho.
And it seems Annie, Sandy and co. will only have all the more to fear from the tyrannical child carer – “hard as nails” (his words) Strictly Come Dancing judge and West End star Craig Revel Horwood has returned to rule the roost as Miss Hannigan once more, having originally played the part in the production’s 2015 UK tour.
But could it be that Miss Hannigan is simply misunderstood? Is she just a forlorn figure, deserving of our pity rather than disdain? And why is she so much fun to play? We spoke to Craig to find out.
So Craig, how have you found returning to the orphanage as Miss Hannigan in Annie? Does it bring back good memories?
It brings back wonderful memories! Some of the main players are from the tour, so it was like coming back home – it was great fun.
A lot of the blocking had changed, and a few of the dance moves, and I had to relearn some harmonies and things like that. But I did it in four afternoon rehearsal calls, and then went on on the Monday night, on the 18th [September], which was great! We’ve had fantastic audiences, and a brilliantly talented and inspiring company.
What’s it like playing Miss Hannigan in the West End, after doing so on tour?
There’s an added excitement because I feel like I’m back home. I haven’t been in the West End since my last show, Crazy For You, in 1993.
Since then I’ve been in the West End directing and things like that, but not as a performer, so it’s really great to return to a previous life! A lot of people on Strictly Come Dancing wouldn’t necessarily realise that I’m an actor and singer and dancer as well.
What makes Miss Hannigan an enjoyable part to play?
I think she’s a little bit misunderstood really. She’s just a woman looking for love, who’s driven to drink because of the [Great] Depression in 1933 in New York.
Also, having to look after an orphanage and relying on council benefits in a way… that’s her life, and she wants to get out of that. She wants to fall in love, get married, have money – you can understand why she tries to sell Annie off! But of course, the moral of the story is: don’t do it, because you’ll end up in prison!
And I love playing the baddies – the villains get the cool lines, so they’re more interesting to play.
Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan in Annie (Photo: Matt Crockett)
What made you want to return to the role?
I had such a ball doing it last time. In theatre, it’s not like you’re doing the same show every night – there’s a new audience, who’re always slightly different.
We’ve got three great Annies, so you’re on stage with different performers all the time, and it makes it a lot of fun.
You’ve just taken over the part from Miranda Hart…
I saw Miranda and thought she was absolutely fantastic. She was a warmer Hannigan than myself, because I’m hard as nails!
But I love that role-playing, and it was wonderful to see a different side to Miranda as well.
What’s the biggest challenge of playing Miss Hannigan?
Making her a real woman – specifically just for me, because I’m a man!
It’s making sure I play her honestly and truthfully. It’s not like being a panto dame where you can break the fourth wall, and be Craig Revel Horwood – there can really be no hint of him at all in the piece. And that era, and the New York accent, can be really difficult, so I’ve had to work hard on that as well.
You’re now one week into the part, and the new series of Strictly! How have you found starring in both shows?
Well I’m trying not to be Hannigan on the Strictly judging panel! I’m wearing a judge’s hat on that particular show, and as I would be [as] a Director or Choreographer, so I just say it as it is really.
When did you first know you wanted to be on the stage?
When I was a little kid we used to put on Christmas shows at home, and we’d do that every Christmas for our family. I wanted to go into amateur theatre, which I did in my hometown of Ballarat in Australia, and then I studied dance and decided I want to be a professional dancer.
But then I went to a school that trained you in acting, singing, dancing and everything else, and then my passion was to be in musicals! My first musical, when I was 17 and living in Melbourne, was West Side Story, and ever since then I’ve just had a major passion for all things theatre.
Craig Revel Horwood (Miss Hannigan), Jonny Fines (Rooster) and Djalenga Scott (Lily) (Photo: Matt Crockett)
What makes Annie such a classic family musical?
I think the story resonates with young people today. There are still people out there that have to live in orphanages, searching for their parents. Annie is about adoption as well, and love, and I think those big, valuable human traits keep the show going.
Plus, it’s wonderful to get children to come and see theatre as well – a live experience, rather than playing on their iPads or PlayStations. It’s really nice to get them out the house, going to a live show, and keeping theatres alive for many years to come.
And of course there are many young stars involved in the show as well…
Yeah, I’ve met some real stars in the Annies. They’re amazing – it shows off how much young talent there is in this country. They’re all fantastic singers, fantastic actors, and incredible dancers, so it’s a wonderful showcase for the young people of today as well.
Do you have a favourite Annie song?
I love Easy Street, I think that’s a wonderful number. There’s great story attached to it, as well as a really cool dance routine.
Also, “the sun will come out tomorrow…” <sings> “Tomorrow, Tomorrow” – I love that one! People go out singing that, and I think everyone in the world knows it as well, it’s one of those tunes that’s universal.
Finally, if you had to give audiences one reason to come and see Annie at the Piccadilly Theatre, what’d it be?
Haha, no – Annie is just sheer entertainment, exuberance, and it offers a really professional cast. You will not be disappointed!
Craig Revel Horwood stars in the West End company of Annie until 26 November 2017; during his run, because of his Strictly Come Dancing commitments, he will not play the role of Miss Hannigan on Saturdays.