IN the late 1980s, I wasn’t fussy about Jason Donovan’s vocal prowess, bopping along to his heyday chart hits.

Now, a few years older and much the wiser, my nine-year-old self felt rather let down by that childhood icon, as he takes the ‘big name’ lead in Annie Get Your Gun at Manchester’s Opera House.

I’d given Donovan the benefit of the doubt in the last musical role I saw, thinking he was under the weather, but as sharpshooter Frank Butler – set against the powerhouse voice of Emma Williams as Annie Oakley – his genuine vocal weakness could not be hidden.

This was never more apparent than in one of the show’s best known songs Anything You Can Do; from the get-go, you knew Donovan’s Butler would be no match for Williams’ Annie who easily sang sweeter, sustained longer and soared higher to only reach about quarter power opposite Donovan’s ‘belt’ come the comic climax of the number.

A pop icon’s weakness aside, Williams fronts a superb supporting cast and ensemble to ensure this is a great, classy production of a musical theatre classic.

Williams is clearly ‘doin’ what comes natur’lly, as she takes tomboy Annie by the scruff of the neck with an energy and charisma that would be hard to beat – and I’ve already mentioned the voice, showcasing variety of tone and style throughout and leading company numbers with such endearing ease, while Norman Pace, of ‘Hale And...’ fame makes for a warm-hearted showman/narrator as Buffalo Bill.

Kara Lane’s brash and sassy Dolly Tate was an ideal contrast to Lorna Want’s soft-yet-sassy sister Winnie, who’s sweet vocals couldn’t fail to woo. Ed Currie stole many of his scenes with a perfectly deadpan Chief Sitting Bull drawing plenty of laughs, alongside the other showmen cameo roles.

But it was the direction, design and choreography team of Ian Talbot, Paul Farnsworth and Lizzi Gee, whose stylish and stylised vision really made the story come to life.

Farnsworth’s simple yet attractive, vintage-hued set drew you into Bill’s big top, where the players are re-telling the story of Annie and Frank, with an on-stage band adding to the atmosphere; and Gee’s routines were packed with neat touches and delivered with character and energy, against fast-flowing direction – the only downside being the audience didn’t always get the opportunity or feel able to applaud as the scenes moved on.

If you love the Irving Berlin score, take your ‘defenses down’ and you’ll be in for a ‘wonderful’ night.

Annie Get Your Gun, Opera House, Manchester, until Saturday. Call 0844 871 3018.