It’s probably a good thing that director Chris Anderson had never before seen a production of Annie when he was approached to direct the Western Arts Theatre’s incarnation of the show. ‘It has been a wonderful experience to translate the page to the stage without any preconceived notion of how the show should be.’

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Photo credit: Ben Fon

Annie will be Anderson’s directorial debut in live musical theatre. ‘I’ve come from a background of film and television, and have been involved in theatre for around ten years. I’ve performed on stage in several productions, and have worked in every other technical facet of theatre from Producing to Lighting, Sound and Stage Managing. It’s given me a great groundwork to pull together a production like this, and seeing it all come together has been incredibly rewarding.’

Anderson was drawn to directing for Annie as ‘the prospect of crafting some of those well-known moments for a new audience really spoke to me. The opportunity to work with a group of incredibly talented children outside of a pantomime or youth production was appealing. Also, Western Arts Theatre’s ethos of fostering new talent meant I knew I’d have the support I’d need to direct a show with my vision.’

During the audition phase, Anderson kept an eye out for auditionees with charisma and personality to spare. ‘Of course, it’s important to be able to sing the notes and hit the choreography, but we were blessed with such a talented group of auditionees that it became really difficult to cast without looking for that “spark” that just sells the role to an audience.’

It’s been a juggling act for the director, who has had to organise and run rehearsals with two different junior casts. ‘We have 20 amazing young girls playing our orphans, who alternate nights as two casts of ten. Figuring out the best way to block and run scenes with two different casts at the same time was a challenge, but once we established our system, we found it worked wonderfully.’

Anderson says his interpretation of Annie deals in extremes. ‘We want to make the production visually striking in its representation of our characters’ desires during their songs. We want to break out of the reality of the story when our characters break into song and explore their inner conflicts. We also want to push both the humour and the heartache, and I think that, more than most, this Annie has a really dynamic interplay between the funny and the emotional moments.’

‘It’s going to be different, but my hope is that we’ve respected it enough so that those who’ve grown up with the show can still recognise it as the Annie they love.’

Anderson says the Western Arts Theatre cast is truly unique. ‘We’ve had a lot of fun playing with the scenes and building up some interesting character moments within both the principal and ensemble casts, and everyone’s been really open to my style of direction and my new vision for the show.’

This is the first show Anderson has been involved in for Western Arts Theatre. ‘It has been such an amazing experience. I saw their major production of Rent and was thoroughly impressed, and I really responded to the company’s support of new creatives and community development.’

Photo credit: Ben Fon

Photo credit: Ben Fon

Carolyn Hasenkam has enjoyed the honour of playing both Annie and Miss Hannigan, respectively, in her acting career. At the age of 13, she played the titular role in a production in her home town. Now, as an adult she’s fulfilling her dream of playing the role of mean Miss Hannigan. ‘How wonderful it is to have come full circle,’ Hasenkam says.

For this role, Hasenkam drew inspiration from Carol Burnett, who played Miss Hannigan in the 1982 film. ‘Watching Burnett in the role is pure bliss; it’s the way I have always imagined the role to be played. Thank goodness the production team feels the same way about it.’ Hasenkam adores acting alongside the orphans, but cites her all-time favourite moment in this production as ‘(The song) Easy Street, where I get to shine with Rooster and Lily.’

Hasenkam worked with Western Arts Theatre in Love Me Not earlier this year. ‘Annie is a full scale musical, whereas LMN was a cabaret where the rehearsal time was less and not as demanding. LMN gave me the courage to get back onto the stage after a ten-year break.’ She has enjoyed the challenge in her latest role of ‘getting the balance of drunken slur and movement without overdoing it or upstaging people.’

When asked in how she feels connected to the role of Miss Hannigan, she jokes, ‘I have three children of my own and they’ve sometimes driven me to drink….haha, no I really don’t feel connected with the drunkenness, hateful behaviours of Miss Hannigan. I love children and I work with children too.’

The company of Annie. Photo credit: Ben Fon

The company of Annie.
Photo credit: Ben Fon

Annie also holds a special place for Antony Steadman, (Daddy Warbucks) as it was the first show he performed in at high school. He particularly enjoys the emotional journey Warbucks experiences as he falls for Annie. ‘It’s always nice as an actor to have a strong arc to play,’ he says. ‘I feel connected to the softer side of the character in that he is learning to love not only Annie, but also himself in the process.’

Steadman was inspired by Albert Finney’s iconic performance in the 1982 film, as well as drawing inspiration from the original comic strip. ‘From very early on, I thought that the role would get the better of me. It is a huge undertaking to learn all of that music and dialogue. We are doing the “new” song (Why Should I Change a Thing?) which was written for Anthony Warlow for the Australian production about 12 years ago. Not many people use this song because it’s not the easiest to sing.’

‘Obviously, people have certain expectations when coming to see a well-known show such as Annie. With Warbucks though, a lot of what makes him who he is has been written into the script. I worked with the director, Chris, on developing our own version of the character. We are giving it a fresh take and bringing a new energy to the role. For example, I’m not 45 years old, so our Warbucks is being portrayed as “new money”’

‘Chris has provided so much guidance and support in helping to shape my performance and has constantly been available to aid in building the character.’

Steadman says it has been an ‘absolute joy’ to work with the Western Arts Theatre cast. ‘It’s not very often you get to be part of a cast where everyone bonds with one another. I can safely say that I have a new group of friends, two of whom are under 13 years old! Our two Annies are incredible. They both bring something so different to their respective portrayals. The cast are an embarrassingly talented group of people who are all wonderful humans.’

 

Annie plays at the Joan Brogden Theatre at Maribrynong College until Sunday October 2nd. Tickets are available through:

https://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=216982

 

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