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It's a hard knock life for Annie; Classic play rounds out Paul Bunyan Playhouse season

(In front left to right) Sarah Pullins listens to Addie Dauner, who plays Annie, as she sings. Also listening along in the back, from left to right, are Lindsey Hildenbrand, Berit Dybing, Dominica Bernstein, Sofia Hamilton and Carlie Burgoon. “Annie” is the summer season finale for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. The play opens at 7:30 tonight in the Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- "Leapin' lizards! It's Annie!"

Not to be missed, and billed the world over as one of the most uplifting plays ever onstage, "Annie" opens tonight at 7:30 in the historic Chief Theatre. This grand musical finale will bring to a close the Paul Bunyan Playhouse's 2014 summer season of professional theater.

One would be hard-pressed to find a more joyful adventure for young and old alike. The audience is almost certainly guaranteed to leave the theater humming, or perhaps even singing out loud, as they are treated to memorable tunes such as "It's a Hard Knock Life," "Tomorrow" or "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."

However, as wonderful as it is, the music isn't the only amazing thing about the play. Based on the immensely popular comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie," we all know the story in one form or

another. A poor little girl, orphaned and alone, faces the worst life can throw at her, yet nothing seems to hold this carrot-topped youngster down. Even though the evil and inebriated Miss Hannigan (the matron running the orphanage where Annie resides) gives it a delightfully wicked try, Annie's rock-solid belief in a better tomorrow is unchanged. Can we possibly dislike anyone more than when we hear the gifted Karen Wiese-Thompson, as Miss Hannigan, belting out the venom-filled number "Little Girls?"

Featuring such lines as "...if I wring little necks surely I would get acquittal," she is appallingly superb.

Joining this inebriated caretaker of orphaned children in her criminal activities are C. Ryan Shipley as the dastardly Rooster Hannigan and Sarah Gibson as the simpering Lily St. Clair. The three of them conspire to relieve Annie's benefactor, Daddy Warbucks, of his generous reward offered for the positive identification of orphan Annie's parents. Whether or not they succeed is anyone's guess.

Addie Dauner, a young but experienced actor who is new to the Paul Bunyan Playhouse plays Annie. The character of Annie, bestowed as she is with an unparalleled positivity, her fellow "inmates" help, and the love of a flea-bitten dog, retains her sunny disposition, always believing the best is right around the corner. And in this award-winning popular production, we are reminded it isn't just Disney where dreams really do come true.

In this production, artistic director Zach Curtis has joined the cast as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, handed directing duties over to returning Paul Bunyan Playhouse favorite Craig Johnson. Curtis is joined by the always delightful Katherine Tieben-Holt as Daddy Warbucks assistant, the long-suffering Grace Ferrell. She loves Annie from the start of this rags to riches tale and, along with Annie's friends at the orphanage (portrayed by a charming group of young actors; Sarah Elizabeth Pullins as Molly, Sofia Hamilton as Kate, Carlie Burgoon as Tessie, Lindsey Hildenbrand as Pepper, Dominica Bernstein as Duffy, and Berit Dybing as July) supports her permanent placement in the Warbucks household.

The music is led by pianist Martino Gabriel-Mayotte with musical direction by Melanie Hanson, choreography by Shannon Roberg, stage managing done by Morgan Holmes, with lighting designed by Grant Merges, costumes by A. Emily Heaney, property design by Connor Norton and Justin Hooper doing scenic design. Doug Anderson, Matthew Cawley, Kelly Houlehan, Larissa Gritti, Leslie Ball, Nancy Brown-Colligan, Jeffrey Willis, Molly Weibel, Dann Peterson, Seth Gabriel-Mayotte entertainingly complete the ensemble cast.

Annie runs through Aug. 9 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available online at or by calling the box office at (218) 751-7270.