A musical message of hope

Want to hear a couple of quick choruses of the beleaguered orphans from "Annie" singing "It's a Hard Knock Life"? Just call Mary Lizakowski's cell phone. It's been her ring-back tone for the past two years.

Jon Jackson stars as Daddy Warbucks and Ali Nicolai stars as Annie in the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre production of "Annie."

Want to hear a couple of quick choruses of the beleaguered orphans from "Annie" singing "It's a Hard Knock Life"? Just call Mary Lizakowski's cell phone. It's been her ring-back tone for the past two years.

"I'm an 'Annie' fan. I love that show," said Lizakowski, who is directing the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre's "Annie," which opens Thursday. "I love the whole history of the show, going back to the cartoon days."

"Annie," a story of hope triumphing over adversity, began as the Harold Gray "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip in 1924. His young heroine, with her curly red hair, signature red dress and fondness for regularly exclaiming "Leapin' Lizards!," came to Broadway as a musical in 1977 with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and the book by Thomas Meehan.

In 1982, it became a musical film starring Carol Burnett, Albert Finney and Aileen Quinn, forever immortalizing Annie's trademark anthem, "Tomorrow" and her furry co-star, a mutt named Sandy.

Community theater's "Annie" will feature 10-year-old Ali Nicolai, a student at East Grand Forks Sacred Heart School, as the spunky Depression-era orphan determined to find her parents.


Annie is living in an orphanage run by the cruel, embittered Miss Hannigan (Michelle McCauley). In one adventure after another, Annie foils the plots of Miss Hannigan, her no-good brother, Rooster Hannigan (Chris Berg) and his floozy girlfriend, Lily St. Regis (Marjorie Morris) and finds a new home with billionaire Daddy Warbucks (Jon Jackson) and his personal secretary Grace Farrell (Amanda Hill).

The show will run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Feb. 13 and Feb. 18-20, with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees on Feb. 14 and 21, all in the Empire Arts Center. Reservations are available ($15, $12 and $10) in UND's Chester Fritz Auditorium box office or by calling (701) 777-4090.

With such a large cast (more than 75 children and adults), organizing a rehearsal schedule

wasn't easy. The ordered scripts didn't arrive until three weeks ago.

But Lizakowski said they're the latest touring version of the show and feature a lot more stage time for the orphans, more humor and a new song for Daddy Warbucks. Working with the cast has been great, she said.

"We have a top-notch cast of orphans," she said. "They're really excited, they learn quickly and they take direction very well. And I'm very excited for Annie, which is Ali (Nicolai), because she's a triple threat, she does it all, sings, dances and acts, which is great."

Ali had her blond hair dyed red to play Annie. She's been performing on stage for four years and has had parts in community theater's "Schoolhouse Rock" and "Alice in Wonderland," and in "South Pacific" at UND Burtness Theatre.

Mare Thompson is assistant director with Jenny Morris as choreographer, Jeff Kinney as technical director, Amy Sanner as head costumer and Carly Flaagan and McKenzie Netz as student directors.


The cast

The cast includes Abby Anderson, Chris Berg, Ava Birkholz, Doug Chavis, Noah Cline, Seth Cline, Taylor Corbit, Emma Dodds, Roger Dykstra, Jaxon Flermoen, Jetiah Flermoen, Ruben Flores, Amber Fuller, Katie Gabik, Rod Gillund, Tacy Gillund, Lucy Glessner, Sophie Glessner, Kenneth Granle, Lily Grossbauer, Sarah Grossbauer, Amanda Hill, Maia Jackson, Jon Jackson, McKinley Kartes, Kathy King, Jared Kinney, Kelly King, Shealyn Klave, Madeline Kleven, Ali Kvidt, Michaela Lee, Naomi Lee, Victoria Lee, Bailey Mankie, Michelle McCauley, Lauren McCreary, Ivy McGurran, Kathleen Mohr, Haleigh Mooney, Marjorie Morris, McKenzie Netz, Ali Nicolai, Nicole Rothenberger, Kathryn Rutz, Lauren Sanner, Rebecca Sanner, Tessa Sanner, Sydney Skaro, Francie Shaft, Taylor Stauss, Elise Stayman, Hannah Syberson, Lizzy Syverson, Claire Thompson, Sophie Welsh, Nichole Wilson, Taylor Wilson and Juliet Wolfe.

The role of Sandy, Annie's lovable mutt, will be played by two real-life mutts, Lizakowski said: Honey, who became part of Ali Nicolai's family after they rescued it from a ditch, and Buddy, a dog Lizakowski adopted from the humane society.

When Lizakowski isn't directing "Annie," she works in the learning and organizational development department for Altru Health System, is a sideline photographer for UND football games and technical director for the Fighting Sioux Sports Network broadcasts. Even if she wasn't a lifelong fan of "Annie," she said, she'd have faith that this show will be a hit for community theater.

"Kids and dogs, you can't go wrong," she said.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to .

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