By Jill Diver
Eleven-year-old Annie is a red- headed, spunky and optimistic orphan, with a dynamic voice, on the search for her real parents.
In her search she escapes from the orphanage where she lives and ends up meeting billionaire business man Oliver Warbucks, who eventually adopts Annie.
With 12 different sets, 73 cast mem- bers, and two young ladies playing the lead character the Pentucket Players version of Broadway’s “Annie” is bound to be a show-stopper.
The Tony-winning musical is play- ing through Nov. 27 at the Merrimack College Rogers Center for the Arts in North Andover.
The show, based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” follows the familiar formula of joy and spunk that has struck a chord with audiences all over the world through numerous stage and film productions.
John Buzzell, of Haverhill, is the founder and director of the Pentucket Players and has been directing for 18 years.
“Like any show (directing “Annie”) is challenging,” Buzzell said. “But it’s a tremendous amount of fun.”
This is one of the largest casts that Buzzell has worked with.
“I think this is one of the most tal- ented casts we’ve had,” Buzzell said. “And it’s a stroke of genius for us to have cast two Annies.”
Emma Kelley, 11, from Andover has been acting since the second grade; and Julia Yameen, 9, from Amesbury, has been acting for three years. They both play the part of Annie.
With two Annies though the actress’ sing the same songs and speak the same lines, they are still different.
“I love playing the part (of Annie),” Emma said. “I get to be someone I’m not. Annie is so optimistic.”
“I’ve actually been in Annie before as the orphan Molly,” Julia said. “My favorite part is having to wear the wig, it’s really funny and I get a really good laugh.”
And Julia is not the only actor in the play who has played a part in “Annie” before.
Terry Kelley, 62, from Law- rence started acting when he was 30. This is his third time playing Daddy Warbucks. He has been involved with the Pen- tucket Players for 16 years, and started because of his children. These days he stays because of the people, an added bonus is his niece Emma, plays the part of Annie.
“All the kids are fabulous,” Kelley said. “They are adorable and gifted kids. It’s exciting my brother’s baby girl is playing Annie.”
Even with plenty of acting experience behind them, and familiar faces on stage, both young actresses still worry.
“What most scares me is the amount of lines and the fact that I could forget a line,” Emma said. “And that 600 people are watching you.”
“Memorizing is the hardest part,” Julia said. “But the songs are very catchy and I sing them every day.”
According to Emma the songs are energetic. She says that some of the songs are difficult, but “practice makes perfect.”
Having two leads in a play may not always be an advan- tage, but to Julia and Emma it was a good idea.
“All the people are so nice and have a good sense of humor,” Julia said. “I like having another Annie because she is one of my favorite people in the play because I got to know her.”
“It’s a good back-up plan,” Emma said. “We each have a different personality and a dif- ferent way of playing Annie and of saying lines.”
And when Emma plays the role of Annie she likes having someone she is comfortable with playing her father.
“I can act like I love (Terry) because I really do,” Emma said of her uncle. “When it’s your uncle it’s much easier than with a stranger because it’s harder to pretend you (love them).”
According to the elder Kelley, playing Daddy Warbucks “is a great role.”
“The girls have a lot of confi- dence for their age,” Kelley said. “For little pipsqueaks they can really belt out (the music). They have a wonderful command and presence.”
This article ran in The Sunday Eagle-Tribune on November 17, 2010