Annie star Liam finds it's good to be bad
NEVER work with animals or children.
It is one of the most famous pieces of advice in the acting profession, but advice that Liam MacAskill has no problem ignoring.
After all, of any of his co-stars appearing in Starlight Musical Theatre’s production of Annie at Eden Court next week, Liam knows what it feels like to begin your stage career at a very young age.
His own debut speaking role came aged just five or six with The Florians Drama Club – the same age as some of the cast of Annie, the story of the incurably optimistic New York orphan whose live is transformed when she enters the home of billionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks.
They include Erin Moran and Tyra McGloughlan, who will share the role across the five performances, and little Katie Mitchell, who is also making her stage debut at the age of six as Annie’s pal Molly.
"I remember being the youngest set of ears in a rehearsal room," Liam said.
"So any knowledge that I can pass on, I can. We know there are a few guys who want to go on to do acting and singing and if they are asking us for advice, it’s always a bit of a compliment.
"There are at least five or six in that young cast who will definitely go on to be in Starlight Productions, if not stars of the professional scene.
"The kids are amazing. They have their stuff learned within the first two or three rehearsals. They’re putting us adults to shame. It’s always great fun working with them. They are just so talented."
Getting married last year meant Liam had to miss out on a part in last year’s Starlight show, Oliver!
However, when he heard the company was planning on staging Annie, he was quick to get involved.
Even though he auditioned for a few roles in the show, which marks its 40th anniversary this year, he was delighted to land the part he had been aiming for, Daniel "Rooster" Hannigan.
"I find it’s the hardest role I have had to play in that it’s a comedic role, which I’ve never done before in a musical," Liam confessed.
"There’s a bit where he has to be another guy – doing two different American accents in one show is difficult."
Ex-con Rooster forms part of a villainous trio alongside Fiona Chapman as his big sister, Miss Hannigan, the child-hating superintendent of the New York Municipal Orphanage, and Molly MacKay, who plays Rooster’s gold-digging girlfriend Lily. Liam credits playing off his talented co-stars with making it easier to take on the challenge of the part.
"I’ve never played a bad guy before, and I can’t wait to get on stage and portray that character. Hopefully some people will see a different side of my capabilities," Liam continued.
"The way myself and Molly have been playing it a little over the top because they are supposed to be these guys who rip people off, but they’re not very good at it. We want to try and portray that to people. It’s different from anything I’ve ever done, but a good challenge."
Liam was already very familiar with the show, having watched the 1982 film version with Albert Finney, Carol Burnett and Tim Curry "countless times" as well as live versions performed by the pupils of Charleston Academy and a professional version at Eden Court with Sue Pollard as Miss Hannigan.
"Rooster’s a bit suave. He think’s he’s the guy. It’s a part I love the idea of playing and I’m very lucky I’m getting the chance now," he said.
"We get to sing one of the most iconic numbers in the show, Easy Street. That’s my high point, getting to do that with Fiona and Molly. It’s a big, jazzy dance number, and a big song."
Liam finds himself part of a cast of experienced and newer Starlight performers, including Garry Black as Daddy Warbucks after his starring role as Fagin in last year’s Oliver!, Alison Ozog, James Twigg and David Saunders.
"The guys in the company are all a great laugh," Liam said.
"Nobody’s better than anybody else. We just want to put on the best show that we can. Garry Black and I have done a few shows together, so we’ve got that good rapport. I’ve never worked with Fiona Chapman before, but she’s just a 10-out-of-10. It makes playing my part so much easier when we go on stage together, she’s so good at what she does."
Not only is Liam among friends with Starlight, he is also among family.
His mother Roma returns to direct the production while sister Nicola Gray takes charge of choreography and brother Niall is stage manager.
"We’ve all got different parts within the company and just get on with it and try not to talk about it too much," Liam said.
"We work well together, we all know what to expect from each other, we’ve done it for so many years and we wouldn’t change it. They know what they can say to me, but I respect them for it and take any criticism on the chin. At the end of the day, they are the ones whose name is on the line with Starlight.
"Mum used to run the Junior Florians when we were younger and it’s just something we got involved in as youngsters. But I really enjoy it more than anything. You get such a buzz from going on stage and performing in front of people."
Starlight have already revealed next year’s show, moving on from Annie’s 1930s New York setting to the 1950s and high school musical Grease.
It should be no surprise to see Liam playing a part in that hit show, but with the opening of Annie just a few days away, Liam is not thinking that far ahead quite yet.
"I just concentrate on one show at a time and putting 110 per cent into that," he said.
"People pay a lot of money to come and see these things, so you need to focus on one thing at a time."
• Liam MacAskill plays Rooster Hannigan in Starlight Musical Theatre’s production of Annie at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court from Wednesday August 17 to Saturday 20, performances nightly at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2pm.