Packemin Productions continue their tradition of bringing musical joy to Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres with their new production of Annie, playing from 7 – 22 February. The dynamic cast features Amanda Muggleton and International Cabaret Competition winner Melody Beck.
We caught up with the stars of the show during rehearsal to ask them a couple of questions about the show and what drives them to get up on stage.
Amanda Muggleton – Miss Hannigan
Amanda is an enduring talent of Australian stage, earning acclaim for her portrayal of some of the stage’s most iconic female roles – Shirley Valentine, Maria Callas, Chris from Calendar Girls, Dolly from Hello Dolly! and Lady Macbeth. She is also well known for her film and TV work, with her characters Chrissie Latham from Prisoner, Connie Ryan from Richmond Hill and her AFI nominated role as Kathy Booth in City Homicide, cementing her as an Australian household favourite. Muggleton first played the role of Miss Hannigan in Annie for the John Frost production in 2000, alongside Anthony Warlow.
What’s it like revisiting the role of Miss Hannigan 14 years after your last go-round in 2000?
Fantastic! The first time (2000, John Frost) I worked with Martin Charnin who is the lyricist for Annie, and he had a very different vision to what Luke Joslin has for this show. It started out with everything in black and white and it didn’t go into colour until Annie met Warbucks, which affected the way my character was portrayed. Miss Hannigan wasn’t allowed to drink, or be naughty with the boys, and even the way she dressed – she was completely hidden. There was no negligee! I agreed with it for that production, and Martin’s vision, but in this one, I can play her as the desperate woman she is in the script. She flirts with every man that comes on stage – Bundles, the policeman, Warbucks – which is very freeing. A bit of titillation!
Which other role in your career would you like to try again?
Without any hesitation, I can say Maria Callas in a play I did called Masterclass. Rodney Fisher directed it and we had three Opera Singers, a pianist, a stagehand and me, and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s very easy to play someone who’s just been made up, because you can take ideas from everywhere, so it was wonderful to play someone who really did exist, because I had untold amounts of research that I could do.
Melody Beck – Grace Farrell
Melody holds a double degree in Music Performance, and Arts Theatre and Performance Studies, from UNSW as well as diplomas from Trinity College London and her AMusA in Classical Singing. While deep in rehearsals for her major role in Annie, 23 year old Melody also found time to compete in the 2014 Your Theatrics International Cabaret Contest, and it was announced a few weeks ago that she had won its much coveted Grand Prize.
Now that you’ve won the International Cabaret competition just a few weeks ago, what’s next for you?
I’m touring my show (a self-devised homage to Marni Nixon) around Australia at different festivals, from Melbourne, to Ballarat, Tasmania, Adelaide, Noosa, Brisbane and Sydney Slide Lounge Cabaret Festival as well. Then I’m off to New York in July to perform at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. In between that I’ll be teaching singing and vocal coaching for productions at Tara (Anglican School for Girls) and The Kings School, which is a lot of fun.
What’s your favourite thing about playing Grace?
I love Grace because she’s kind, she has gumption and she is so organised! She’s on the ball, ten steps ahead of everyone. The character is really well written and you can do so much with it – she doesn’t just stand there and smile. We joke that it isn’t Daddy Warbucks who’s in charge, it’s Grace! She runs the household. I like playing that type of character because I think it’s actually pushed me into being more like that myself. If I could take anything away with me from this role, it would be that – organisation! And maybe a billionaire…
Stella Barahona – Annie
Stella auditioned with more than 400 talented girls for a part in Annie and was thrilled to secure the title role of Annie. The nine year old attends Commotion School of Performing Arts and has danced since the age of two in all styles, representing Commotion in performance troupes since 2010. She has taken musical theatre and drama classes since 2012 and learns singing from Hanna Hyeronimous.
Annie will be her musical debut.
When did you decide you wanted to be a performer?
I used to sing along with mum in the car all the time, so she asked me if I wanted to do singing. I started singing and dancing and last year when Camilla (show Choreographer), who is one of the teachers at my dance school, told us about the Annie auditions, I knew I wanted to try out for it. When I auditioned it was really fun, so I knew it was what I wanted to do.
This is your first show! How are you going to celebrate?
We might have a BBQ at my grandparents’ house with the family. There’s lots of room to play with my brother and sister (Ruby, 10, also in the show) and cousins. They’re all coming to see the show! I’m also looking forward to being in the audience and watching Isabella (Taylor, 10, understudy) when it’s her turn to perform. We’re really good friends now.
Camilla Jakimowicz – Choreographer
Camilla first discovered her passion for dance at the age of three and began her extensive training in Queensland. She then relocated to Sydney and landed her first professional job at age 16, in Baz Luhrmann’s feature film Moulin Rouge. From here, Camilla made her musical theatre debut with Saturday Night Fever and went on to perform in Hugh Jackman’s The Boy From Oz , We Will Rock You (Japan), Fame (dance captain/ensemble/Carmen understudy) and was assistant choreographer for the world premiere of Doctor Zhivago. Camilla also made Top 12 in the first season of So You Think You Can Dance.
Camilla has choreographed Packemin’s previous shows Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz and Hairspray.
You’ve worked with Packemin before – what keeps you coming back to the company?
They’re like my second family! I believe in what they do as a company. They source out the up and coming talent of Sydney and find a little spark in someone and they give them an opportunity which builds them into a performer; a performer who can sing, dance act and then go on into the professional world. I love that it’s all about giving people, especially the kids, the chance to show their talent and do what they love to do. The audience gets a show that isn’t just good to look at, great to listen to and a fun night out; they get a production that is made from passion and love for what we do in our industry. It comes from a cast who all want to be a part of it for the same reason – because they want to perform.
What has been the most interesting challenge you’ve overcome choreographing this show?
The challenge is always having so many children (86) in the show. Even though this show has the smallest number of kids of all our shows, having three separate casts means we basically do the tech three times over. Another challenge has been variations of singer/dancers/actors. It’s not like Hairspray where we had full-out dancing and singing, The cast have had to step in to more acting roles and so the choreography is less dance based and more movement based. On top of all that, we’re also doing the choreography on a split level mansion! We didn’t get the set until we got to the theatre this week, so we’ve had months of interesting fun mapping it out on the floor with bits of felt.
Christopher Hamilton – F.D.R.
Christopher has appeared in over 100 musicals and plays, including roles alongside another Packemin alumni, Jon English, in Pirates of Penzance and Paris. Some of his favourite roles are Percy in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Javert in Les Misérables, King Arthur in Spamalot, and Charles Makin in The Hatpin.
You’ve been doing community and professional theatre for 40 years – what has been your favourite show to work on?
The Scarlet Pimpernel (2005, Gosford Musical Society) gave me a chance to play a whole variety of things in the one role. The Scarlet Pimpernel gets all the comedy because he plays the fop, but he also has to be quite swashbuckling so I had to learn how to sword fight. Great songs to sing, with beautiful handmade costumes.
What gets you so excited about Annie?
It just ones of those fun, straight-forward, family shows that everyone can relate to. It’s well-crafted and moves along with great tunes that people get into. What I like about it is the optimism driving its way through the story.
Neil Gooding – Producer
Under the banner of Neil Gooding Productions, Neil has been involved with shows on Broadway, such as Alan Cumming’s recent one-man version of Macbeth, Off-Broadway with Handle With Care starring Carol Lawrence and in the West End with Holding The Man starring Jane Turner and Simon Burke.
Closer to home, Neil has produced and directed many professional plays and musicals, with highlights being the Australian premiere of Gutenberg! The Musical! for which he was nominated for a 2009 Helpmann Award and a 2009 Green Room Award for his direction, and (with Whitebox) the world premiere of The Hatpin starring Caroline O’Connor, Peter Cousens, Barry Crocker AM and Melle Stewart, which then went on to perform at the NYMF in New York.
Neil is also the author of the musical Back To The 80s which is produced hundreds of times around the world every year. In 2010, in association with Riverside Theatres, Gooding formed Packemin Productions. Since then, they have staged the hugely successfully pro-am musicals Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz and Hairspray.
You’ve managed to create a culture of inclusive, joyful theatre at Riverside with your productions. What inspired you to devise these productions in this community?
Luke Joslin (Director) and I were in a group of ‘30 somethings’ that came out of a similar structure that operated out of The Hills Centre in Castle Hill, which is where we all met and cut our teeth in our performing and directing. When we got the chance to go to the Riverside Theatre, we decided to go with a model that included as many people as possible and could be a bit of a bridging process between great amateur performers who want to be professionals, or vice-versa, people who are in professional theatre that have a space in their calendar and want to come and do shows on a large scale. For the professionals it gives them a chance to play roles they have always wanted to play and for the rest of the cast they learn so much from those professionals – watching how they rehearse, their process, how they perform. It’s a great event that includes many kids and great performers who are teachers and nurses by day and love performing at night. It’s a model that has worked wonderfully across the board and we’re thrilled that ticket sales prove there is a strong demand for the type of shows we produce, the scale which we produce them at and the ticket prices we produce them for.
Why Annie? What about this show makes it one that never disappears from Australian stages for long?
When we program our shows we have to pick ones that we know will be popular, because our model only breaks even when we sell a lot of tickets. Having done Joseph, Oliver and Wizard with large children’s casts, the only remaining one was Annie. So it was a pretty easy choice to program!
It’s been really interesting seeing how popular this show still is. We know there’s going to be mothers and grandmothers bringing their daughters, because so many girls have grown up obsessively watching the show over generations. This is the only movie my one year old wants to watch when she gets up in the morning! There is obviously something that just connects massively with every female who loves musicals and love singing, and it’s one of those shows that will just keep coming back and coming back. It doesn’t date because it’s set in the 1930s, so it’s a period piece anyway. It will be a classic for many, many, many decades to come!
How does it feel handing over the directing reigns to Luke Joslin?
It’s been brilliant. Luke is one of my oldest collaborators – we go back 15 years to when I first directed Luke. Since then, he’s been my Assistant Director on a number of projects and we’re currently co-directing Thank You for Being a Friend, so it was a pretty easy choice. Luke was also in the professional run of Annie (2011, John Frost) so it was great that he was available to do it. With Neil Gooding Productions, I have a lot of projects going on such as opening the Hayes Theatre (Potts Point) and three or four shows opening in the next few weeks, so it was always unrealistic for me to be able to direct Annie. Luke has done a great job coming into the Packemin structure and leading the team. We have our usual team of Musical Director, Choreographer, Costume Designer, Set Designer, and now Luke, with his talent and experience, has come in and done a great job with his own idea of Annie for audiences to enjoy.
Tickets for Annie are available via the Riverside Theatre Box Office: (02) 8839 3399 or http://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/annie/. If you are heading to the show on Friday 7th February, please note that parking may be difficult due to a game in the area.