Latoya Newman

WITH just over two weeks to go until the awaited KickstArt production of the Broadway hit musical Annie opens, rehearsals are well on the way.

During a break last week Tonight spoke with director Steven Stead, who also takes on the character of Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan.

He said Kickstart had a reputation for producing quality family-oriented musicals, as well as cutting-edge work, and Annie completely fit their criteria for a family musical.

“(Designer Greg King) and I both feel South Africa at this time needs reasons to have hope, and needs reasons to celebrate being human. It’s a positive, upbeat, make-you-feel-better kind of show.

“It has also just had a very big and very successful revival on Broadway and it’s been reworked. So it’s great to have the opportunity to do the new version of Annie.”

The rags-to-riches story of everybody’s favourite orphan, Annie, features an impressive cast, with Lisa Bobbert as Miss Hannigan.

Stead will be making a rare appearance on stage as Miss Hannigan’s wicked brother; Iain Ewok Robinson performs as billionaire Daddy Warbucks, who opens his home and eventually opens his heart; Jessica Sole is Grace Farrel – Daddy Warbucks’s secretary, who loves Annie from the start; and Belinda Henwood is Lily St Regis, Rooster’s trashy girlfriend.

Asked why Bobbert was best suited for this role, Stead laughed: “I couldn’t think of a better drunken slapper if I tried.”

He added: “Lisa is a natural comedienne and she has a great singing voice. I just think she is the perfect person to play it, because you get all the humour out of it and at the same she is threatening.”

We last saw Stead on stage in I love you, you’re perfect, now change. Asked if this was a sign that we’d see him more on stage in future, he joked, “No! It’s a sign that I’m losing my marbles”, before adding: “To be completely honest, I’m playing Rooster because we’ve lost a lot of men of the right age who can sing high enough and do the choreography. Like Darren King, Bryan Hiles… all people I might have asked to play the role, who are all in Joburg doing Othello.

“So it’s a case of I better do it myself because there is no one else around.

“It’s very hard (balancing dual roles). It’s going to get much harder in production week when I have to keep running backstage to check on the lighting and make sure the sound is good and do all the things a director has to do. But I have an excellent team in terms of support.”

Stead said he had an extremely experienced and professional cast.

“Obviously, the children have needed more work… they’re young, they’re inexperienced, and so they’ve had an extra week of rehearsals.

“We saw 90 children (during auditions). Sarah Donkin and Luca Tarboton (alternating as Annie) are just wonderful.

“They are both as cute as buttons and they can both sing the pants off it.”

Stead said one of the highlights in the show would be that the audience would get to see rapper/ spoken word artist/actor Robinson sing for the first time.

“Iain is fantastic, the find of the century. He’s done six months of singing work and he is sounding fantastic. He’s not a singer; he’s a very good actor. This is his first singing role and he is doing fabulously. I’m very excited.

“The audience can expect to see a different side of Ewok.

“Jessica Sole is Grace by name, grace by nature, really…

“Belinda and I have a really good rapport with each other. We’ve worked opposite each other on stage and I’ve directed her so often… she’s a really good friend.

“So I have two of my best girlfriends playing on stage with me and we’re all the wrong side of 40 and really having a lot of fun with each other.”

Stead added that they also had “the most amazing ensemble”.

“All of them are principals, and the fact that they are willing to work for us as chorus members is amazing… Rory Booth, Lyle Buxton, Charon Williams-Ros, Georgina Mabbot, Anthony Stonier…

“The production is so strong because it has a good cast of principals and an excellent ensemble, all sounding fabulous.”

We asked Stead about the set design: “Greg always does a great job, but he has really outdone himself.

“The show is really demanding.

“It demands that you go from a grubby downtown New York orphanage to a magnificent 5th Avenue mansion, then to the president’s Oval Office… it just goes all over New York and he’s made a set that does that.

“It’s a lot of very ornamented flying pieces, very ornate flying pieces. This is three-dimensional – it’s woodwork, it’s carved, which flies in and out…

“The show has got such a message of hope… The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow and the fact that she sings it to the president.

“It’s a really fun idea that Annie inspires President Roosevelt to create the new deal and give America another chance after the depression... so it’s kind of good timing for us to be doing this.”

Neil Stuart Harris has created the costumes; Janine Bennewith is choreographing; and Shelley McLean, Justin Southey and Evan Roberts are musical directors. KickstArt’s production of Annie features memorable songs such as Tomorrow, Hard Knock Life,You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile, Maybe, Little Girls and Easy Street.

The young Donkin, from uMhlanga, and Berea’s Tarboton alternate as Annie, with the orphanage children. Molly is played jointly by Grace McIlroy and Sarah Sparks; Mayze is played by Carmen Page Harris and Katelyn Hallowell; Pepper is played by Wazana Moncho and Marianthe Panas; Duffy is played by Cassidy Philips and Genevieve Matter; July is played by Alaska Hilton and Emma Gillespie; Tessie is played by Keryn Lynne Scott and Abigail Kane.

And, finally, Katy is played by Lidelwa Sibisi and Klara Robertson.

Annie runs from May 23 until June 15 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Booking is through Computicket. For block bookings of 10 or more, or sold performances and early bird specials, please contact Ailsa Windsor on 083 250 2690 or [email protected]