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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Playing Annie is a dream role for local actor

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Casper the golden retriever is seen as Sandy and Jenny Weisz plays the title role in Annie at Young People’s Theatre. [Cylla von Tiedemann photo]

Jenny Weisz thought that at age 21 she was much too old to fulfil her dream of playing little orphan Annie.

So she was thrilled when she found out her first job after graduating from theatre school would be to play that role in a Young People’s Theatre version that uses adult performers in all of the roles.

“I didn’t believe it when my agent called and called me ‘Annie,’” she said. “I freaked out.

 “I was always drawn to her spunk and her adventurous creativity and, of course, her optimism,” the Thornhill, Ont., native said. “We all can relate to a character like this who sits at home and dreams and wishes and hopes for those things she wants to come true.”

Not only was the character one of her dreams – so was the venue. Weisz recalled seeing shows every year at the Young People’s Theatre, and she dreamed of working there.

“It had a huge influence on what I do, and it inspired me to do what I love,” she said, adding that she thought performing there would be a goal she would have to work toward over many years.

The performance, which runs until Dec. 29 at the Young People’s Theatre, has updated the show about an 11-year-old orphan who escapes an orphanage hoping to find her biological parents, to match a more modern, urban audience. Artistic director Allen MacInnis told the Toronto Star he wanted to inject more depth into the characters and the story.

“What really got me thinking was that I discovered there used to be an orphanage on Front Street right opposite the theatre, and knowing that the real presence was so close got me thinking about putting more reality into the show,” he told the Star.

Weisz said the fact that the performers are all trained actors rather than little kids allows them to explore that depth a bit more and bring more life to what can sometimes be seen as a two-dimensional script.

“It raised the stakes, seeing as we’re all capable of going into the deeper places, really following your dreams and sticking up for what you believe in,” she said.

After each show, there’s a question and answer period, and kids are frequently shocked to find out she’s not 11 years old, she said, attributing it partly to her looks – she said people often think she’s in high school or early university – but also to the show’s direction and the children’s belief in the story.

She said it’s been a great experience working at the theatre, doing the show with two-time Juno Award nominee Sterling Jarvis and Tony Award-nominated actor Louise Pitre, who Weisz said has given her lots of advice, as well as a recent pep talk.

“She was very confident in telling me I have a future [in theatre], I’m professional and deserve to be where I am,” she said, “Hearing it from someone like her was astounding.”

Although she doesn’t know what’s next for her, Weisz said she’s hoping this gig will pave the way to many more musical theatre shows in the future.

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