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North East lads star with Jason Donovan in Annie Get Your Gun

Two talented youngsters from the region are in the spotlight this week as they share the the role of Little Jake in Annie Get Your Gun

Appearing in Annie Get Your Gun at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, left to right, Jason Donavon, James Styles, Emma Williams, Oliver Blake and Norman Pace
Appearing in Annie Get Your Gun at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, left to right, Jason Donavon, James Styles, Emma Williams, Oliver Blake and Norman Pace

Stage star Jason Donovan is joined in the spotlight this week by two potential stars of the future.

They are 10-year-olds James Styles and Oliver Blake and already they will tell you there’s no business like show business.

James, from Whitley Bay, and Oliver, from Sunderland, are sharing the role of Little Jake in Annie Get Your Gun at Sunderland Empire.

The musical, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, is a fictionalised version of the life of Wild West sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

It opened to acclaim on Broadway in 1946 and has been packing theatres ever since.

The latest touring production, which runs at the Empire until Saturday, stars Emma Williams as Annie, Jason as her sharpshooting rival and lover Frank Butler and Norman Pace as showman Buffalo Bill.

The role of Little Jake, the youngest of Annie’s siblings, sees the two North East boys stepping onto the region’s largest stage on alternate nights.

Reading through there script for Annie Get Your Gun at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, left to right, Jason Donavon, Oliver Blake, Emma Williams, James Styles and Norman Pace
Reading through there script for Annie Get Your Gun at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, left to right, Jason Donavon, Oliver Blake, Emma Williams, James Styles and Norman Pace
 

Speaking after the dress rehearsal, they both demonstrated a sharpshooter’s cool.

“I like acting and singing a lot,” declared James who also expressed appreciation for his stage outfit: “Quite comfy.”

“I will be nervous... but also quite calm,” said the philosphical youngster who attends Valley Gardens Middle School.

“I did a little bit of drama when I was very young but that closed down and then I started about a year ago at Stagecoach.”

This is the nationwide theatre arts school which seems the perfect preparation for a Wild West show.

Oliver said he also goes to Stagecoach, which takes place at Newcastle’s Gosforth Academy.

Both boys were in the chorus of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Newcastle Theatre Royal last summer.

Oliver, who attends the Chorister School in Durham and is used to singing in the cathedral, said: “I’ve been acting since I was three years old and I used to enter singing competitions.”

He was in the audience at Sunderland Empire recently to see another hit show, War Horse, but said appearing on stage held no special fears.

“You can’t really see anyone when you’re on stage so you’re not nervous,” he said.

He said he was looking forward to telling Jason Donovan that he had met Mark Little, the actor and comedian, and aspired to appear on The Voice and meet Kylie, both of these having starred with Jason in TV soap Neighbours.

Both boys said family members would be swelling audiences in Sunderland this week. Among those offering support will be James’s brother Rohan, aged six, and Oliver’s sister Megan, 16.

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