Curious Fact #1: stories about plucky orphan kids make wildly popular musical theatre fare. Witness Oliver!, Anne of Green Gables, and Annie.
Curious Fact #2: two out of three musicals about plucky orphans involve adorable, authoritydefying redheads who find love in less-than-conventional families.
“I don’t happen to be a tiny, adorable redhead, but I am dyeing my hair for the session,” laughs Tori Beemer, who plays the title role in the MAD (Music Arts and Drama) production of Annie, currently running at the Wood Street Centre.
Beemer, who considers herself “usually a pretty optimistic person” like Annie herself, says she jumped at the chance to play “such an iconic, loved character” onstage. “This will be my first time actually doing anything like this, singing a super-iconic song (“Tomorrow”) in front of all these people. I’m definitely more excited than nervous, because I really want to be able to share that with everyone.”
The StrouseCharnin-Meehan musical is based on Harold Gray’s much-loved comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie”. Its opening in 1977 led to a Tony Award and a mammoth Broadway run of almost six years.
It’s the story of how young Annie escapes the clutches of a boozy, tyrannical orphanage director, Miss Hannigan, befriends a stray dog whom she names Sandy, and wends her way into the home and heart of billionaire tycoon Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks.
Director Mary Sloan can’t help sounding… well, big… when she describes what will be her last major production for MAD before she retires in June. “It’s big, it’s fun, it’s a monster of a play. There are 50 characters, and we have 24 kids in the class, so we’ve got some kids playing four characters. The costumes are out of this world; the set is huge,” she says. “We always choose a play from the kids that we have in the class, and this class just kind of shouted Annie at us.”
Sloan also has a personal connection to the show. She played Miss Hannigan in the last Whitehorse production of Annie, a quarter-century ago. “I love the role. I think she’s one of the most fun characters in musical theatre, and I really loved playing her.”
Sloan says Grade 12 student Selina Heyligers-Hare brings “a really marvelous, rocker voice” to the role of Miss Hannigan in the MAD production. “What she’s doing is brilliant and wonderful, and it’s so great to watch that. Here’s Miss Hannigan living on, 25 years later. She’s as irascible and crabby and wonderful as ever.”
Besides Beemer and HeyligersHare, other principal players in Annie include Jacob Fitzsimmons as Daddy Warbucks and Kayleiggh Poelman as his assistant, Grace.
Loughran Thorson-Looysen and Ryann Anderson play Miss Hannigan’s scheming brother, Rooster, and his partner in would-be crime, Lilly St. Regis.
In addition to their MAD students, Sloan and musical director Jeff Nordlund also have a contingent of much younger thespians in the cast — the children of Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. “We have 23 little girls in the show, and every time those little girls come in, right before rehearsal I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope this is going to be OK, I hope I can control these kids,’” Sloan admits. “And every time, they just surprise and delight me. They remember the direction they got before, they’re enthusiastic, they’re adorable. In fact, when I retire, I’m probably going to work with little kids for awhile.”
As the show’s title performer, Beemer says she has learned from the experience of singing publicly with others. “I have a lot of support in my voice, so the ability to sing quite loudly. That’s been a challenge for me; dialling it back and just singing with the group.”
But even at the advanced age of 17, the Grade 11 student says it hasn’t been difficult to play a much younger character. “I’m kind of 11 at heart anyway, so I’ve had an easy time relating to the character, and kind of slipping into the role,” she laughs.
One challenge she did face, though, was how to make her singing voice sound younger. “The higher notes tend to get kind of like an opera-feel, and you want to make them more like a kid-feel,” she says. “It’s not really like changing your voice. It’s more like a frame of mind going into it.”
Another frameof-mind adjustment for both Beemer and theatregoers involves Annie’s beloved companion, Sandy. Because Yukon Government rules don’t allow dogs in school buildings, Sandy will be played by a bipedal actor. “I know the girl who’s playing Sandy really well, and it’s not weird at all,” Beemer reassures. “She plays the role really well. She’s sort of cute and we’re really good friends in real life, so I think that shows, too.”
Annie’s run at the Wood Street Centre is from Tuesday, April 28 to Saturday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. There will be a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Sunday, May 3, and two final evening performances, May 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.