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Christi E. Sears says she fell in love with "Annie" the first time she saw the musical as a kid.

That's one reason why Friday night's opening performance of the production at Albany Civic Theater will be so special, but not the only one.

"We've never done it here at this theater, and it's exciting," said Sears, the production's director.

"Annie," with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, will have 13 performances at Albany Civic Theater. The Tony Award-winning Broadway hit in 1977 was based upon the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie."

Sears said casting Annie was a difficult decision, considering the number of young girls who auditioned. Lily Johnson, 13, of Albany, won the role of the orphan who has "equal measures of pluck and positivity." Johnson played young Fiona in Sears' production of "Shrek: The Musical" in 2016.

"I really like musicals and 'Annie' was a fun one that stood out to me over the ones going on this season," Johnson said.

Johnson's understudy, Teza Ross, 11, of Corvallis, will play Annie in three Thursday performances to give Johnson a break, Sears said.

"I wanted to be in 'Annie' because I've seen it so many times, and I really love it," Ross said.

Ross, who is making her ACT debut, performed in "Cats" at Corvallis High School and six plays at the Majestic Theatre. She will portray Tessie, another girl at the orphanage, during most performances. Johnson will play Tessie, when Ross fills in as Annie. 

Veteran actor Rebecca Douglas, who plays Grace Ferrell, has been impressed by the duo.

"These two were some of the first people off book. They've worked really hard at learning their lines, and it's made the adults step up their game," Douglas said.

The musical has 39 cast members, ages 6 to 70, and a dog, of course. Annie's dog Sandy is played by Lexi Bear, a Bouvier des Flandres breed, owned by Susan Jones. Jones is the wardrobe mistress for "Annie" and treasurer on ACT's board of directors, Sears said.

The dog has been in scenes with many of the actors, but mostly with the two Annies.

"Lexi is really fun," Johnson said.

For three members of the cast, Aaron and Kelley Marchbanks of Corvallis and their 12-year-old daughter, Lilly, being in "Annie" is a family affair.

Aaron and Kelley, who play siblings Rooster Hannigan and Miss Hannigan, have performed with each other in 15 productions, most recently in "The Little Mermaid" musical at the Majestic Theatre.

"The girls were excited to do this and it's the first one that the three of us have been able to do at one time as a family," Aaron Marchbanks said.

For Kelley Marchbanks, performing in "Annie" for a third time is the continuation of a journey with the musical that began when she was 10.

"I went from (playing) Annie to a Boylan sister to Miss Hannigan, all at different theaters in different towns and everything," she said.

This is her first show at ACT, and it's the third for Aaron Marchbanks. He previously had roles in "Spamalot" and "The Three Musketeers."

The musical begins in a 1930s New York City orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan. After several attempts to escape from the orphanage, Annie is later adopted by Grace Ferrell (Douglas) on behalf of the billionaire Daddy Warbucks, played by Dennis Fisher. 

Warbucks announces he's offering a reward of $50,000 to the couple that can prove they are Annie's parents. Rooster Hannigan and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Heidi Kravitz) hatch a plan with Miss Hannigan to get the money.

"Annie" features an orchestra led by longtime musical director Jim Martinez to perform the musical’s 25 songs and reprises.

Sears has complete confidence in Martinez.

"He has full say in the structure of the musicality and maneuvers through the score flawlessly," she said. "I always learn from Jim when I am lucky enough to take a musical theater journey with him."

With the cast, crew, and orchestra, Sears said 85 to 90 people have contributed to this musical.

"I may have my name on the poster, but it's our show and it's about us," she said.


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