New Deal:MacDonald Productions’ ‘Annie’ fills the stage with young talent

Tara Bradbury
Published on November 4, 2011
A MacDonald stage veteran at the age of 13, Emily McKim brings triple-threat abilities to the role, says the producer. — Photos by Joe Gibbons/ The Telegram

You’ve seen the comic strip, you’ve seen the movie, you’ve seen the broadway show, and if you’re in St. John’s, you might have even seen the local production of “Annie” as recently as six weeks ago.

Next week you’ll get the opportunity to see another one, as Peter MacDonald Productions presents its version of the show — with a 120-member cast — at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

With a cast that featured Jane Hutchings as Annie and Greg Malone as Miss Hannigan, Theatre St. John’s successfully produced “Annie” at Holy Heart Theatre in September.

“When we call these production houses, we ask if anybody has the rights and when they reply in the negative, we purchase them,” MacDonald explained. “There are instances when they reply in the positive and we say, ‘We won’t be doing that show, then.’ We just assume once a company had the rights in one area that would blanket it, but that’s not the case with amateur productions.”

MacDonald got a phone call, the night he had sent out audition notices for the show, letting him know Theatre St. John’s was also planning to do “Annie.” He sat down with Keith Pike, Theatre St. John’s’ artistic director, to discuss what they were each trying to do, and both decided to go forward with their individual productions.

“Keith did great and we’re doing great as well,” MacDonald said of ticket sales.

Set during the depression, the show is the tale of Annie, a curly haired child living in a New York orphanage under the care of the tyrannical Miss Hannigan. Annie’s life takes a turn for the better when she’s invited to spend Christmas with billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, who decides to help her find her biological parents by offering a reward. However, Miss Hannigan, her brother, Rooster, and his girlfriend, Lily, scheme to get the reward for themselves.

The orignal musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it was turned into an Oscar-nominated film five years later.

MacDonald’s production of “Annie” has a cast that includes a 30-member adult chorus, a 30-member teenage chorus, and about 35 young “orphans.”

Directing the piece with a cast that large hasn’t been a challenging as one might think, said MacDonald, who also has a small role in the show.

“We’ve had hard experiences in the past, but this is a really wonderful group of little girls. The challenges have mainly been the scheduling and the light roar of talking. This cast has been quite exceptional in terms of being easy to get along with and easy to get going,” he said.

Playing the role of Annie is 13-year-old Emily McKim, an experienced MacDonald Productions performer who has also appeared in local productions like “Cats” and “Seussical.” She was chosen after the fourth audition, MacDonald said, after she proved she could sing, dance and act equally well.

“We had a lot of candidates who could do two of the three, but Emily was the one that could do all three,” he explained. “Annie is a real belter of a role and you really have to be able to sing, and Emily brought that maturity.”

Being a triple threat isn’t easy, Emily told The Telegram.

“It’s hard to do all three at the same time, but it’s really, really, really fun,” she said. “I just love performing, and it’s what I want to pursue in life.”

Making her role in “Annie” a little easier is that fact she’s been rehearsing the songs for years.

“I’ve seen the movie many, many times. I watched it every day when I was six and seven,” Emily said. “I’ve always wanted this part, and playing the lead is just incredible.”

Other cast members include Mark House as Daddy Warbucks; Victoria Fuller — just home from completing a master’s degree in musical theatre in Scotland — as Warbucks’ secretary, Grace; music teacher Angela Dawe as Miss Hannigan, Jonathan Decker as Rooster, and Sydney Fuller as Lily.

Though MacDonald said he hasn’t watched the movie version of “Annie” in years, he did incorporate some features of the film in the show: there’s a butler in the movie whom he’s turned into a Punjabi character, and he’s made the maid Scottish.

While the show is particularly demanding for Emily — who’s in just about every scene — the other young performers have had their share of challenges, too, especially when it comes to musical numbers like “Hard-Knock Life” and “Maybe,” which contains some “wicked harmonies,” MacDonald said.

“The girls have really come up to those challenges,” he added.

MacDonald — like Pike told The Telegram, back in September — doesn’t see the two “Annie” productions as competition, saying the shows will be different and there’s no animosity between them.

Producing “Annie” was a given, MacDonald said, whether it was being done by someone else or not.

“Why would we choose the same show as another company? Because it met our mandate and we had to go forward with it,” he explained.

“We’re doing three things: providing family entertainment, providing an opportunity for our students to get on a main stage production, and building friendships and relationships between performers.”

Peter MacDonald Productions’ “Annie” will run Nov. 11-14 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee Nov. 13 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 ($27.50 for students and seniors), tax and surcharge included, and can be purchased at the Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900, or online at •••