Meet the two girls set to star in the Kings Theatre's production of the hit musical Annie
It's the moment many little girl dreams about. The curtains part, lights beam centre stage and a thousand expectant eyes follow. It’s showtime – and with it comes the chance to become a star.
For two girls, from Portsmouth and Lee-on-the-Solent, these dreams will become reality in April as they take on the title role of the Kings Theatre’s in-house production of Annie.
Following in the footsteps of the Southsea venue’s run of the award-winning Bugsy Malone last year, the show is built on a cornerstone of local talent and began with auditions that saw 300 hopefuls pass through the Kings’ doors.
This huge response, says Annie’s director Jack Edwards, is indicative of the burgeoning pool of young performers the city has to offer.
But naturally, there are casualties of this process and difficult decisions have to be made.
Theatre chiefs have now settled on two teams of 20 actors, aged seven to 16, who will each tread the boards for three of the show’s six outings alongside an ensemble cast.
At their heart will be the two Annies, leading the different teams, as she is forced to live a life of misery at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage in 1930s’ New York amid the Great Depression.
Though she is chosen to spend an enchanting Christmas with billionaire Oliver Warbucks, the conniving Miss Hannigan hatches a plan to wreck the pair’s search for Annie’s true family.
Aged just nine, Tayla Fallon, a pupil at Northern Parade Junior School at Hilsea, will etch this arc on to the stage as she bounds into the title role.
The casting is the result of her stellar auditions, but she remains dumbfounded at scoring the part.
‘I was really excited – I couldn’t believe my ears,’ she says.
‘I was holding my best friend’s hand at the audition hoping I would get Annie, and here I am.
‘I told loads of my friends and they all hugged me and said congratulations. I thought “wow, I feel popular”.
‘When the show happens I’m going to be really excited and really happy.
‘I’ll be a tiny bit nervous too, but the audience won’t realise that.’
A keen singer since she could talk, and a current pupil of Marie Clarke’s School of Dance, Tayla’s zest for performance stems from her parents.
Dad Mark, 39, once toured in a band and mum Maria has performed on cruise ships.
Mr Fallon says to see their daughter championed by the Kings Theatre is ‘fantastic’.
‘Annie was one of Tayla’s favourite movies from the age of about four, so the fact she gets to play her is a dream because she loves that role,’ he says.
‘We haven’t pushed her to do anything and everything she does is because she wants to do it. We’re absolutely delighted.’
Bringing Annie to life in the show’s twin roster will be Lily Marden, 11, a pupil at Crofton School, Stubbington.
A singing pupil of Josie Hutsby and a pupil of the Ker Mel School of Dancing, Annie will mark the bright youngster’s first starring role – and she couldn’t be more excited.
‘This is a big dream of mine and it’s becoming reality,’ she says.
‘It makes me feel really happy knowing I’ll be getting out there and showing my talent.
‘Just to think I’m even in the show, let alone being Annie, is amazing.
‘This could be the start for me.’
Lily’s parents, Anna and Tony, are understandably thrilled.
‘It was Lily’s singing teacher who encouraged her last year to start doing auditions – that gave her the taste and passion,’ says Anna, 38.
‘Her school has planned a field trip to go and watch her in the show and she was mentioned in a praise assembly. The response has been really lovely.’
Director Jack, who is also the theatre’s creative director, has already tipped Tayla and Lily for big things.
It comes after they had to sing and dance in front of a panel of Kings’ bosses to get their roles, including CEO Paul Woolf.
The team whittled the 300 applicants down to the 40-strong team in just two weeks, in January.
‘It got down to the nitty-gritty but everyone was fantastic – and these two girls are just incredible,' Jack says.
‘Annie has to own and run the show – the focus is her.
‘So, you have to find someone who’s confident, can act, have great vocals and also be able to dance.
‘We’re so lucky in Portsmouth because we have amazing talent, which I always knew, but I’m quite surprised at just how much came out – it gave us a really tough job.
‘These two girls are just fantastic.
‘They have everything we wanted them to have. They can sing, dance and act.
‘To know they are probably going to go and do this professionally means this is a real stepping stone for them.’
He continues: ‘If this is the talent they’ve got now, what are they going to be like when they’re 18?
‘They just have to keep their feet on the ground and be disciplined.’
A benefit of casting young, local talent is that the theatre expects to welcome hordes of proud relatives and friends when Annie hits the stage.
And as a Tony Award-winning book and score, boasting numbers from It’s The Hard-knock Life to Tomorrow, bosses say there isn't a chance it will disappoint.
Jack adds: ‘These talented children will give everything they’ve got and we’ll have huge sets, costumes and a big orchestra – so I think we’re giving back something to the community with this show and we’re very excited.’
TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW – HERE'S HOW TO GET THEM
With just nine weeks until this musical hits the stage, tickets to the Kings Theatre’s production of Annie are available to buy now – starting at £19.
The show's two teams of 20 young actors will perform three times each over four days.
Show times for the production are as follows:
• Wednesday, April 15: 7pm
• Thursday, April 16: 1.30pm
• Thursday, April 16: 6.30pm
• Friday, April 17: 6.30pm
• Saturday, April 18: 1.30pm
• Saturday, April 18: 6.30pm
For more information or to book tickets, go online and visit kingsportsmouth.co.uk and search for Annie.
Alternatively, call the box office on (023) 9282 8282 or visit the theatre at 24 Albert Road, Southsea, which is open weekdays 10am-5pm.
‘ABSOLUTELY A GAP IN THE MARKET’
After the success of Bugsy Malone and the audition process for Annie, Kings Theatre bosses will be looking to draw on the city’s talent for a homegrown show every April.
Ticket sales and interest in the shows from the community, for the community have already proved immense – ‘energising’ the theatre and its staff.
The venue’s creative director, Jack Edwards, says: ‘With Bugsy Malone we thought we would just try it out and it was a huge success.
‘Now we feel there’s absolutely a gap in the market for a musical every Easter, whether that be with adults, or children, or a mix.
‘We’re already thinking about what we’re going to
do next year.’
Jack, an actor himself and once a mainstay of the West End in London, says the quality of the Solent region’s performers should help it clinch licensing deals and the ability to put on big-name productions.
‘The difficulty we have now is rights for shows,’ he says.
‘They’re quite difficult to get because a lot of the rights for these major shows get snapped up quickly and normally by professional producers.
‘But because we have this huge talent in Portsmouth, we are confident that whatever we choose we will cast very easily, so that’s very exciting for us.’
On the prospect of Easter shows at the Kings Theatre, Paul Woolf, its CEO, says: ‘This is becoming more and more the norm for us and the more we can involve the community, the better.’
To see the theatre’s listings, go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk.