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'Annie' set to open at Peoria Players

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To say Mary Ellen Ulrich loves the musical "Annie" would be quite the understatement. It is why, after all, she is directing it for the fourth time in the last decade or so.

"I loved the comic strip 'Little Orphan Annie' as a little girl and the musical is so lively, so fun. It has a great story line and it ends on a happy note. What more can you ask of a musical," Ulrich said, who said she also has performed in "Annie" three different times.

This version of "Annie" opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Peoria Players Theatre, 4300 N. University St., and will play 10 performances, including four matinees. Already one performance — on Sunday, Nov. 13 — is sold out and other shows are down to only a few remaining tickets.

That includes the Friday night opener, said theatre manager Nicki Haschke.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, 12, 16, 17, 18 and 19. Matinees are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Nov. 12, 13, 19 and 20.

For more information or to order tickets call (309) 688-4473 or go to www.peoriaplayers.org.

annie1Maddy Hoskins, center, portray the title character in the Peoria Players production of "Annie," which opens Friday night. Dave Schick, left, plays Daddy Warbucks and Anne Gonzalez, right, is Grace Ferrell in the musical that tells the story of Little Orphan Annie.The shows stars Maddy Hoskins as Annie. Hoskins has performed in several shows in the area, at Peoria Players as well as at Corn Stock Theatre. She had no problem belting out the best-known song from this musical, "Tomorrow," during a dress rehearsal on Monday night even as the pooch portraying Sandy preferred to wander the stage or dart to the wings.

Dave Schick, a veterans of many musicals and dramas throughout the region, will portray Daddy Warbucks. It marks the second time Schick has agreed to shave his head for a role, as he did so in June 2010 for "The King and I" at Corn Stock.

Cheryl Dawn Koening will portray the very funny role of Miss Hannigan while Anne Gonzalez plays Grace Farrell, Bryan Blanks plays Rooster, Susan Knobloch is Lily St. Regis, Rusty Brost is Bert Healy and Bruce Colligan portrays FDR.

Ulrich has cast 66 people in the show, including 34 kids and 11 family units of at least one adult and one child. And yet she still has several cast members doubling up for the show, which has been in rehearsal since the first week of September.

"It takes a big cast. It's so big we have a lot of the children putting on their costumes at home before they come to the theatre because we don't have enough dressing room space. But that's not really a problem," she said. "I once had a cast of 84."

While she is used to directing large casts, Ulrich said she couldn't do it without a lot of volunteer help — mostly parents — to keep the children corralled. "When we have shows with a lot of kids, they have to be kept entertained when they are offstage and they also have to be quiet. That's why parents have to be involved," she said. "I am very grateful for the volunteers we get."

She has had a different Annie, Daddy Warbucks, Miss Hannigan and other lead characters each time she has directed the show. She won't say which has been her best.

"Each one has been wonderful. Each has been unique in their own way. And I believe in giving new people a shot at a role they haven't played before," Ulrich said.

Ulrich has directed more than 40 shows through the years at various local venues, including several school musicals. Her most recent Peoria Players show was "Wizard of Oz" last February and this past summer she directed the Community Children's Theatre production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

You won't find Ulrich's name on anything except a musical.

"I always do musicals. I just gotta see singing and dancing. That's what holds my interest when I go to the theatre," she said.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).