‘ANNIE,’ which opens at the Cork Opera House tonight (Thursday July 20) until August 20, is something of a family affair with three Cork sisters starring in the popular musical, set in New York in 1933 during the Depression.
The lead role is being shared by 13 year old Faye Herlihy from Ballinhassig and her good friend, Lasairfhíona de Brún, also aged 13, from the Model Farm Road. Faye’s two younger sisters, Sophia aged 10 and Charlotte, aged eight play orphans in this Broadway classic. The musical extravaganza sees the orphans, led by Annie, showing the grown-ups how to make the world a better place with a can-do attitude. And a can-do attitude is what the stars of the show have in spades.
As Faye’s mother, Lee says, her home is an all-dancing and singing one.
“The minute the girls could talk, they were singing and making up songs and dances. Charlotte could sing every song from Les Miserables by the time she was five. They just love performing. It’s something we encourage because they enjoy it so much. It’s not like work to them.”
The three girls (who have a young brother, five year-old Matthew) were hugely excited when they heard about the auditions for ‘Annie.’
“Thankfully, they fell into the right age range for the show. It was like it was meant to be. They sent off their video clips. I felt it would be a miracle if one of them got a part. The fact that the three of them got roles is astonishing.”
Faye, who is going into second year at Gael Colaiste Choilm in Ballincollig, is a past pupil of Gael Scoil Uí Riada in Wilton which her sisters attend.
“It’s a great school with music and drama on the curriculum. There’s an excellent drama teacher who gives classes there called Shirley McCarthy. The girls attend Irene Warren’s Performance Academy .They have really blossomed under Irene, doing musical theatre with her.”
It wasn’t until she was eight that Faye started attending Irene’s classes. Her two sisters started at the academy when they were five.
“About two or three years ago, they became very serious about what they were doing. They started singing lessons with Siobhan Oliver.”
Lee, who has her own Montessori school in Bishopstown and her husband Brian, who is in retail, have always had a musical household.
“There’s music on all day long. It’s never ending. We love pop music and opera music. The children are growing up listening to it.”
While the girls have starred in a number of shows including pantomime, Lee says that ‘Annie’ is really a big debut for three of them.
“They can’t believe their luck. They’re overwhelmed by the whole thing. What was lovely was when they were cast, each of them were excited about the others as opposed to just being happy for themselves. Unfortunately, they’re in different casts. Faye is in one and the other two are in the alternating cast. So they’ll be on the stage different nights. Brian and myself will be there every night.”
Lee describes Faye as modest and humble.
“She was more surprised than anything when she got the part of Annie. It has given her a huge sense of confidence. You can see it in her. We’ve always believed in her. At thirteen, I suppose you doubt yourself a lot more. The younger two sailed through the auditions and are enjoying the fun. For Faye, it means something more. She would like a career in musical drama when she leaves school. We’re encouraging her to pursue it. It’s a tough industry. You have to be pretty resilient. But I think if you’re coming through the process of doing shows, it will make you resilient. If you love something as much as Faye loves musical drama, that will take her through it. She is completely and absolutely set on a career in it.”
Sophia was in the final four contestants for the role of Annie.
“That was a great achievement for her at ten years of age. I was wondering if she’d be upset when Faye got the part. But she was only upset for ten minutes and is enjoying her own role. Charlotte is the most dramatic of them. The role of Molly is right up her street.”
And as for young Matthew, Lee says he has no interest in drama. His sisters more than make up for his indifference towards the stage.
The other young girl playing Annie, Lasairfhíona also comes from a theatrical family. Her two older sisters, Caoimhe aged 17 and Niamh, aged 15 are totally captivated by musical drama.
Lasairfhíona, who has just finished her primary education at Gael Scoil Uí Riada, will be going to Gael Scoil Choilm in September.
As her mother, Miriam, a former Irish dancer originally from Louth says: “‘Annie’ has been in our house for a long time. Lasairfhíona played Molly in the last production of ‘Annie’ at the Opera House. She knows every word of it. Her two sisters were so excited for her when she got the part. Lasairfhíona was ecstatic when she got the news. It’s a dream come true. She’s walking on air. She would rehearse seven days a week if she had to. She lives for acting, singing and dancing. That’s all she wants to do.”
Such is the level of interest in the performing arts in the De Brún household that they have installed a stage and a dance floor in their home.
Lasairfhíona attends Irene Warren’s Performance Academy. She also attends Shirley McCarthy’s drama classes, the Montfort College of Performing Arts, and is a vocal student of Emer Collins. She has also done vocal work with soprano, Mary Hegarty. And as if all this wasn’t enough, Lasairfhíona learns the violin at the CIT Cork School of Music and is a member of the Junior Cork Youth Orchestra.
Lasairfhíona and her sisters have been in numerous pantomimes and a number of musical shows. Lasairfhiona and Niamh appeared at the Albert Hall in London at the International Suzuki Concert in 2016. The three sisters won the Family Feis title over three consecutive years.
Last year, Lasairfhíona appeared twice on television when she got into the finals of the Junior Eurovision with her song, ‘Fan Liom.’
“She subsequently recorded the song with the Cork Youth Orchestra and its release is imminent. She’s very musical. She performed the role of the young Sleeping Beauty at the Cork Opera House in 2014/2015 and sang for 54 consecutive shows. She received a ‘distinction’ in grade 6 at the London College of Music exams. That’s a high grade for her age. She is a serial winner at Feis Maitiú.
“‘Annie’ is one of Lasairfhíona’s favourite musicals. When she was auditioning for it, the excitement in the house was unreal. Her sisters really wanted her to get the part. The competition was strong. But Lasairfhíona just went for it. It was all she wanted.”
Miriam is at ease with her daughters pursuing musical theatre as a career.
“Once they’re happy, they can do whatever they want. It’s a cut throat business and they know that. They’ve been involved in it for so long. They could end up studying in Dublin or London.”
Miriam used to work as a nurse and her husband, John, is a pain consultant. But there’s no chance that the de Brún girls will take the medical route. As part of her Transition Year work experience, John brought Caoimhe into all the different departments at CUH. Caoimhe also spent a week at the theatre studies department at UCC. She summed up the experience by saying: “I know what I don’t want to do. I never want to work in a hospital. I want to be on the stage.”
And that goes for Lasairfhíona and Niamh too.
“We’ll support them all the way,” says Miriam, adding that the girls have made great friends through their all-consuming interest. Relatives from all over the country will be coming to the Cork Opera House to see the talented Lasairfhíona doing her thing on the city’s largest stage.