‘Annie’ marks a 25th anniversary

Apassion for performing has drawn Surrey resident Jenn Riehl to a Royal City Musical Theatre production for a fourth time over the past decade-plus.

In Annie she plays Mrs. Pugh, head cook at the Warbucks’ mansion, and also plays a few other parts in the show, which continues at New Westminster’s Massey Theatre until Saturday, April 26.

Riehl is “truly honoured” to have made the cut during auditions last September.

“For this one, they had a couple hundred people audition for the whole show, so they get a pretty good turnout,” Riehl explained.

“I think everyone eventually tries out for a Royal City show, and you’re really lucky if you get one.”

She’s a soprano who, in this show, sings the top line in all of the chorus numbers.

“There’s so many of us (sopranos) out there, so it makes it competitive,” Riehl said. “I started my training when I was a little kid, so I’ve been training for years and hopefully they like that and gets your foot in the door. I’ve been very fortunate with Royal City because they tend to hire you back if you’ve proven yourself, take it seriously and can do the work.

For Riehl and most of the other actors in the show, it’s all volunteer work, too.

“Somebody once estimated that we put in roughly $2,500 of our time into a show like this, and I’m not sure how he broke that down, but that number might be based on minimum wage,” Riehl said with a laugh.

“I can say that we’ve put in roughly 16 hours a week for the past three months…. But you know, the end result is always so wonderful, and I truly love being a part of Royal City.”

Riehl, who lives in Newton, juggles her duties in Annie with a full-time job.

“I’m a single mother (of four children, ranging from age six to 20), too, so it’s a challenge to get out there and do this, but I have that drive to do it, that desire, almost a basic need to do this,” she said. “I’m almost magically being able to pull this off. The older kids definitely help looking after the younger ones, for sure, and they understand that it (acting) is something I have in me and just have to do.”

This is Royal City’s 25th year of staging productions, and Annie is dedicated to the memory of Ed Harrington, the company’s co-founder, first artistic director and inspirational leader. He died last April.

“I’m really proud to be part of the anniversary,” Riehl said. “Ed Harrington was the first person to hire me in a big show like that, which was Carousel back in 2004. He was such a wonderful man to work for, and made you appreciate and respect the art and craft of theatre.”

Meanwhile, young actors Avril Brigden and Aubrey Maddock are enthusiastic about just about everything to do with Royal City’s version of Annie – everything, that is, except the bloomers that the orphans have to wear. Those are tight and itchy and make the girls really glad that in their real lives, they get to wear jeans.

The two Burnaby girls are onstage as orphans in the large-scale production.

“It’s going really well!” said an enthusiastic Aubrey, 12 , during rehearsals.

“I really like the experience, it’s really fun,” agreed Avril, 10. “I like that I’m doing what I love.”

Neither girl is a stranger to the world of singing, dancing and acting in front of crowds.

Aubrey, who appears as Kate, started her acting career at the age of eight, when she played Matilda in her school production of

Willy Wonka and then appeared as Marta in Footlight Theatre’s The Sound of Music. A year later, she was cast as a featured munchkin in Footlight’s The Wizard of Oz, and at age 11 played Mabel in her school’s production of I Need a Christmas Vacation.

Avril, who plays Pepper as well as understudying Annie, studies musical theatre and dance at Lindbjerg Academy of Performing Arts. She’s been in four shows with Lindbjerg and recently appeared in Align Entertainment’s Shrek The Musical. At last year’s Kiwanis Fraser Valley Music Festival, she won the Best Broadway Performance award.

They’re both thrilled to be part of the Annie cast.

“I love the music, I’ve always loved the music,” Avril says, noting that she got the CD when she was little and listened to it over and over and over again.

They both love the choreography created by director Valerie Easton for the Royal City production, and they’re excited to perform with the full orchestra.

The family-friendly musical features “Tomorrow,” “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “Easy Street,” among other memorable songs, in a story about plucky kids at an orphanage.

Massey Theatre is located at 735 Eighth Ave., New Westminster. Tickets for the show range from $29 to $45 via masseytheatre.com and 604-521-5050. For show details, visit www.royalcitymusicaltheatre.com.

with file from Julie MacLellan, Royal City Record