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Leapin’ lizards at the Egpytian

You could give your mom flowers, chocolates or diamonds this Mother’s Day or you could give her the gift of 20 singing orphans.

This Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 7-9, Youtheatre will present "Annie Jr." at the Egyptian Theatre.

Amber Hansen is directing the spring showcase, which features an all-youth cast of 26 students aged 8 to 16. "I am pleased to bring this beloved musical to life on the Egyptian Theatre stage," she says.

"Annie Jr." tells the same story as the classic musical, just in less time (the show runs just over an hour). The cast has been working since March to memorize a 75-plus-page script in addition to several song-and-dance numbers.

Tanya Taylor, owner of Park City-based Taylor Productions, has choreographed routines to favorite songs including "Hard Knock Life," "N.Y.C." and "Easy Street." She plans to bring in a pair of local gymnasts to add a little extra oomph to the theatrics.

"Our choreography is stellar," says Hansen. Hana Gottlieb, who shares the character of Annie with Ally Ioannides, agrees that the dance routines are a highlight of the production. "They’re fabulous," she says. "Tanya is amazing."

The role of Annie was double cast in order to showcase the level of talent in Youtheatre and also to avoid putting the weight of the show on one actor’s shoulders, Hansen explains. Gottlieb and Ioannides, each 12 years old, will split the lead role and when they’re not playing Annie, they’ll play Pepper, one of the orphans.

Gottlieb remembers the hysteria that ensued when she found out she had gotten the role. "Ever since I’ve been little, it’s been my dream to play Annie," she says. "My whole family is so excited. It’s a huge deal for me."

She adds that the best part is being surrounded by other kids who share her love for acting. "I really like the cast," she says.

Indeed, the cast members share a sense of camaraderie that is obvious on stage and off. Miranda Lewin, 14, and Kat Ioannides, 15, are among the older cast members that help out with their younger counterparts.

"We remember when we were the younger ones and how much we looked up to the older kids," says Lewin, who plays Grace Farrell, the secretary to Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. "It can be challenging [to work with younger actors], but you have to work through it."

Kat, who is Ally’s older sister, plays the brusque, drunken orphanage matron, Miss Hannigan. "Everyone has a lot of energy. It’s great," she says.

The girls agree that they don’t think stage fright will be an issue with the cast. "We’re all so close as a cast now that if someone did have stage fright, we’d help them get through it," says Kat.

"There’s really good chemistry," Lewin adds. "It’s like a tight-knit family."

Adam Snyder, 13, decided to sign up for Youtheatre because it fit into his off-season as a Nordic combined ski jumper. He’s never done an all-youth show before but says it has been a "perfect" experience. The perks, he says, include the laid-back atmosphere of Youtheatre and meeting a whole new circle of friends. "I’m sure I’ll keep talking to them after the show."

Snyder plays Rooster, the conniving brother of Miss Hannigan who claims to be Annie’s biological father in order to pocket the $50,000 reward. "It’s fun to be the evil person once in a while," he says.

Ten-year-old Emily Terran plays Lily St. Regis, Rooster’s smarter-than-she-looks girlfriend. "It’s a really fun experience just go out there and show what you’ve got," she says. "We have great actors, dancers and singers. It’s gonna be a really good play."

Among the familiar faces from Youtheatre productions are Drew Kenniston, who reprises a leading role as Oliver Warbucks after his portrayal of the Sultan in the previous production of "Aladdin," and Christian Labertew, who must have taken a liking to playing non-human characters after his stint as Iago the parrot, he is playing Sandy, the dog Annie rescues from the streets.

Aside from learning about stage presence and technical elements, the cast members have absorbed plenty of knowledge that isn’t explicitly taught. Immersing themselves in the setting of the play New York City in 1933 has provided a glimpse into the Great Depression and the politics surrounding the economic situation.

Audience members will get a laugh, for example, when Warbucks wonders aloud what Democrats eat after inviting President Franklin D. Roosevelt to his mansion for Christmas dinner.

Performances of "Annie Jr." are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday and anyone who comes dressed as Annie will get in for $5. Regular ticket prices are $10 for adults and $8 for children 12 and under. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the box office at (435) 649-9371 or visit http://www.parkcityshows.com .


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