Sunderland orphans to star in Annie

Members of the Northern Star Theatre Arts school who have been selected to play orphans in the production of Annie at the Sunderland Empire later this year.  Teacher Geri Feeney is pictured with, back row, left to right; Tia Zanetti, Rennea Hawthorn, Emilia Dove, Laura Simpson, Evangeline Ferguson, Gemma Dodsworth and Leah Cook. Front row; Beth Cutting, Katie Todd, Jenae Shaw and Lucy Robinson.
Members of the Northern Star Theatre Arts school who have been selected to play orphans in the production of Annie at the Sunderland Empire later this year. Teacher Geri Feeney is pictured with, back row, left to right; Tia Zanetti, Rennea Hawthorn, Emilia Dove, Laura Simpson, Evangeline Ferguson, Gemma Dodsworth and Leah Cook. Front row; Beth Cutting, Katie Todd, Jenae Shaw and Lucy Robinson.
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A DRAMA teacher who acted on the West End stage in Annie now has her own brood of orphans to look after.

Geri Feeney has a special place in her heart for the musical after she appeared in the London production of the show starring Paul O’Grady and Lesley Joseph.

Now, 13 years later, things have come full circle and she is teaching the next generation of Annie stars.

Eleven girls from her Northern Star Theatre Arts school, based in Sunderland High Junior School, have been hand-picked for a national tour of the show starring Hi-de-Hi’s Su Pollard when it runs at the Sunderland Empire.

Geri, 35, who runs the school with husband Geoff, said: “This is a great experience for the girls to be working on a professional show alongside established actors such as Su Pollard.

She added: “The producers had heard about my connection with the show and how good the school was and approached us to send some girls for an audition.

“It’s a wonderful show for them to be in. With some shows, children just sit there and sing, but in Annie the kids have real characters.”

During her time in the West End, Geri performed many chorus and understudy roles in Annie.

She was fresh from graduating from the London-based Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and it was her first major acting role.

Geri said: “It’s funny because I had always wanted to be an orphan in Annie, but at 22 I was too old. I remember when I was 10 and the show came to the Sunderland Empire. I auditioned to be an orphan and was broken- hearted to be told I hadn’t got through.

“I think it’s a good lesson to teach the girls because even though I didn’t make it the first time, I went on to be in the show in the West End.”

After a stint in the capital, Geri moved back to Wearside to raise a family and start her own stage school.

She said: “My husband and I are so proud of the girls, we can’t wait to see them up there on the stage.”

* Annie is on at the Sunderland Empire from November 29 - December 3. Tickets costing £11.50-£28.50 are available from 0844 871 3022.

Twitter:@sunechokaty