Annie has a special place in 11-year-old Alex Sheppard-Reid’s life.
Six years ago, when he was laid up in hospital with a severe and potentially life-threatening eye infection, the 1982 film starring Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney and Carol Burnett was a daily source of joy and inspiration.
“I just loved it and I would watch it every day,” Sheppard-Reid said. “It was really the brightest part of my day back then. It just made me feel amazing for the entire thing.”
Now, he’s playing Sandy, Annie’s dog and loyal sidekick, in Delta Youth Theatre’s production of Annie Jr., on now through Dec. 3 at the Genesis Theatre (5005 45th Ave. in Ladner).
Sheppard-Reid’s interest in theatre actually came about, in a strange way, thanks to his time in hospital.
“Right before I actually got really sick, I saw Seussical the Musical and I just loved it,” he said. “I don’t think I would have done much about it … but I went through that and music was just a huge thing for me.”
Add that to those daily viewings of Annie, and a potent seed was planted. For the past four years, the Sunshine Hills Elementary student has pursued his passion for the arts both in and out of school. He’s acted in numerous plays, including Elf and The Little Mermaid for DYT, and takes part in ArtStretch, a Delta School District enrichment program at Delta Manor Education Centre in Ladner.
“We do tons, it’s a new thing every week,” he said. “We do sketches, drawings, paintings, collage, pretty much everything.”
But the theatre is where his heart lives.
“It’s just so interesting. You never know what’s going to happen and everything’s original no matter what script you’re following,” he said. “I’ve done Annie before at another company and it’s entirely different from this one. It’s just so amazing, the feeling of being onstage. It’s nerve-wracking but it’s exciting.”
Delta Youth Theatre’s production of Annie Jr. features the talent of over 90 Delta singers, actors and dancers, ranging in age from nine to 20 years old, spread over four different casts.
“The performers are definitely tired of hearing me say, ‘It takes village to raise a musical,’ but it is the absolute truth,” said company musical director Tracy Neff.
The self-proclaimed “musical theatre nerd” said she imagines every Delta household has at least one family member that is familiar with the iconic red-headed orphan.
“There have been two movie versions since the 1982 classic, so this story definitely stands the test of time,” Neff said.
Annie Jr. is the DYT’s inaugural production at the recently-renovated Genesis Theatre.
“The Metro Theatre was a wonderful venue for our first three productions but we always wanted DYT’s home to be in Delta,” said company artistic director Tony Barton.
The cast is performing eight public shows and four sold-out student matinées of Annie Jr., and kicked off the play’s run with a special “red carpet” event on Wednesday night, featuring Hollywood actor-come-Tsawwassen-transplant Neal McDonough (pictured above) as Daddy Warbucks.
As for Sheppard-Reid, he says he plans to keep acting for as long as possible, but “I think I’ll wait a little bit longer before I try it professionally. I just don’t really know if I’m ready for that yet.”
“I really like Warbucks but it’ll be a really long time before I get to do that [play him].”
In the meantime, he’s taking a keen interest in how the shows come together behind the scenes, especially the lighting and costuming.
“I really find all the tech interesting and I kinda wish we [the cast] got to see more of it,” he said. “Like, we see it to a certain extent, that they set up the lights, they get everything running, but I know they do everything behind the scenes and I’d really like to see what they’re doing all of that time.”
Sheppard-Reid will be playing Chip in DYT’s production of Beauty and the Beast in April, a role he’s coveted since he first got interested in acting.
Beauty and the Beast “was one of the few musicals that I saw before the movie, and I actually liked the musical version better than the animated movie,” he said. “It was really Chip that I wanted to be for the longest time and now I get to be him, so I’m really excited for that.”
“I’m really looking forward to that one. I’ll have more lines than ‘Woof,’” Sheppard-Reid added, “and I just know that Tony and Tracy will do something amazing with it.”
For tickets or more info on DYT’s programming, visit deltayouththeatre.com.