I'm so excited.  We open in two weeks and the local newspaper just posted an article on the show on their website.


I've also been blogging if anyone's interested.


Here's the full article:

A musical message of hope

Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre brings ‘Annie’ to stage
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 now.

By: Paulette Tobin, Grand Forks Herald 

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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The Annie looks absolutely adorable in that picture!
Aww... thanks Cecile. The wig didn't arrive in time for publicity photos, so her mom curled her hair. This kid is so much fun to work with, she's so serious about performing. :D

Congrats on your production, Mary.
I enjoyed the videos on your blog. Hope you're eventually able to post one of Annie singing. Best of luck with your show! It looks like a fantastic cast.
Hi FanAnnie 1, I most certainly will! When we first started rehearsals she had a little difficulty reaching the high notes on a belt. She's been steadily working at it with her vocal coach and she's starting to sound really good (of course, I'm biased since I am directing the show :P I hope to record her in rehearsal this weekend and again when the music arrives.

I also hope to catch the orphans (all of the orphans, we were missing both Molly's) in a much better rendition of Fully Dressed.

Thank you for your kind words,
The videos didn't play for me, it said they were unavailable and to try later... :(
I have also been unable to get the videos to play, I will try again later to see if thay will play then.

The little girl who is playing Annie (Ali) looks so cute, so is the dog, I would like to wish all the cast good luck and thank you for sharing this lovely news with us all Mary.

Kind regards Kathy.
Yes, the videos don't always work for me either. Sometimes I'll try one and it won't work, so I'll try the other one. Very strange - wish I knew how to fix it.

We open tonight!!!! Yay!! We had a final dress rehearsal/parent night/media night last night. Annie and the orphans got a nice review in the local paper (transcript below) I'm also going to update my blog - haven't had time because I'm either at work or at the theatre. I have a few clips from last night's final rehearsal to post. Hope you enjoy!


REVIEW: Spunky orphans make this ‘Annie’ a winner
“Annie,” which opens tonight at Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks, is a show with a strong cast of adults and children, nearly 80 people in all.

By: Paulette Tobin, Grand Forks Herald

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

“Annie” the musical is built around a most melancholy story — a poor little girl, left as an infant to be raised in an orphanage, surrounded by poverty and cruelty, never gives up hope that the parents who abandoned her will return and reclaim her.

Yet, at its heart, it’s perhaps the most favorite of American archetypal stories, the one that says if you have hope and determination and follow your dreams, tomorrow will be a better day.

“Annie,” which opens tonight at Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks, is a show with a strong cast of adults and children, nearly 80 people in all. But it’s definitely a show that’s owned by the little girls who play orphans. Yes, they are adorable. But they also can sing, act and dance, and when they take the stage, they own it. That was clear from the first notes of “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”

Ali Nicolai shines as “Annie.” As the lead, she holds the center of this show steady. Her lovely young voice is a pleasure to hear. She plays fearless and confident oh so well.

“Annie” has its scenes of poverty and despair, a “Hooverville” shantytown and the scene in which the president and his cabinet fume in frustration about how to pull America out of the Depression, Any of this sound familiar?

Every story like this has to have a villain. Here it’s the mean and crazy (and usually half in the bag) Miss Hannigan (Michelle McCauley) who runs the orphanage with no feeling whatsoever for the little girls who surround her. “Why anyone would want to be an orphan I don’t know,” she mutters at one point, swigging from her silver flask. Along with her creepy criminal brother Rooster (Chris Berg) and his floozy girlfriend (Majorie Morris), the three make a deliciously villainous threesome.

To help Annie resolve her dream of finding her long-lost parents, there’s Amanda Hill as Grace Farrell, a smart, warm and understanding secretary to a rich industrialist. Grace brings Annie to spend Christmas at the mansion. And, as every story like this must have an alpha male who doesn’t realize he needs saving, there’s the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who we watch evolve from saying “I’ll get her a brandy” when he first meets an upset Annie, to singing to Annie that she’s what’s been missing in his life.

This “Annie” does all that it’s meant to do and more. You may have quibbles with it, but they’ll probably be minor. This show is performed to pre-recorded music. As with nearly every opening night, there were some problems with sound and microphones and some missed cues. But mainly director Mary Lizakowski has brought together a great show to entertain you and chase away your winter blues.

“Annie” will play at the Empire at 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday and Feb. 18-20, with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees on Feb. 14 and 21. Tickets are $15, $12 and $10 and are available in advance through Chester Fritz Auditorium box office.

The show is presented by Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre.
Why is the dog different from the ones in the picture?
We use two Sandy's. When one is Sandy, the other is the stray dog.


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