Sunderland youngsters dance for a place in Panto

Youngsters auditions for this year's panto at Sunderland Empire Theatre.
Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts
Youngsters auditions for this year's panto at Sunderland Empire Theatre. Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts
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It may only be September but these twinkle-toed youngsters have been getting in the festive spirit - oh yes they have!

Wannabe dance stars from Kathleen Davies Stage School, Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts and Muriel Harrison School of Dance and Drama donned their best smiles and jazz hands to impress a panel of judges at this year’s Sunderland Empire panto auditions.

Muriel Harrison School of Dance

Muriel Harrison School of Dance

Though the leading roles have been cast for Sleeping Beauty, the search is on for the young dance stars who’ll be helping to bring the classic fairytale to life.

From the auditions, 24 youngsters will be chosen to alternate in the dance troupe and rub shoulders with Faye Tozer as the Good Fairy, Coronation Street’s Vicky Entwistle as Carabosse and Balamory star Andrew Agnew, who’ll juggle the roles of Silly Billy and director.

The dance stars of the future were out to impress the judges, which included Empire general manager Ben Phillips and Martin Dodd from panto production company UK Productions.

Ben said: “There are so many times people from the city have come up to me and said their first time on the stage was in the Empire panto, and these are women of 50/60-years-old.

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Muriel Harrison School of Dance

. Muriel Harrison School of Dance

“For some it ends up being their first experience of a professional production and they go on to be senior dancers, on the West End stage or cruise ships, it’s a great opportunity.

“For the audience, it’s also many of their first times to the theatre, so it has to be great.”

Speaking about the cast for this year’s panto, which also includes Eastenders actress Amy-Leigh Hickman as Princess Briar Rose and legend of radio, screen and stage Bobby Crush as Nurse Nelly, he said: “The panto seems to get better each year and we have a really great cast this year. I believe it’s the best all-round cast as there’s someone for everyone.”

Producer Martin said he’s looking for dancers who look like they’re enjoying themselves.

Muriel Harrison School of Dance

Muriel Harrison School of Dance

“I’m looking for enthusiasm and happy, smiling kids who can dance,” he said. “We want to see the children really enjoying themselves. This isn’t the Royal Ballet School but they do need to be able to do the choreography. But what is really important is their energy, panto is all about energy, it needs to come off the stage. If somebody is on the stage who is not enjoying it, it kills the show.”

UK Productions has produced a string of previous pantomimes at the Empire and Martin says it’s one of the company’s favourite venues.

“It doesn’t get better than performing in a beautiful Matcham Theatre,” he said. “But it’s not just the building, the audiences are great here. They really embrace it and join in with the show.”

Martin says former Steps star Faye who now lives in Boldon with her Sunderland-born husband Michael and their son, will be a great addition to the show.

Muriel Harrison School of Dance

Muriel Harrison School of Dance

He said: “I think Faye is going to be spectacular and it’s nice to have that local element. Years and years ago pantomimes would always have had local people starring in them but they’re so expensive to stage that’s not feasible for theatres to do.

“So it’s nice when you can have that local element, as well as the local dancers. The script too will have local references, it’s not a touring production, this is very much Sunderland’s pantomime.”

•Sleeping Beauty is at Sunderland Empire from December 9-31. Tickets available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022 or www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.

Kathleen Davis Stage School

Kathleen Davis Stage School

Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts

Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts

Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts

Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts

Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts

Shameem Karim School of Performing Arts

Kathleen Davis Stage School

Kathleen Davis Stage School

Youngsters auditions for this years panto at Sunderland Empire Theatre.
Kathleen Davis Stage School

Youngsters auditions for this years panto at Sunderland Empire Theatre. Kathleen Davis Stage School