Annie Jr.

Rachel Ely portrays the main character Annie in Annie Jr. The production starts tonight at Great Plains Theatre.

Working with 43 kids between the ages of 5 and 18 proved to be a challenge for Director Mitchell Aiello in the production of Annie Jr.

Plain Great Players will be premiering their production of Annie Jr. starting tonight at Great Plains Theater.

“Annie Jr. is the absolute biggest, all-inclusive PGP production ever and we hope to grow even larger in years to come,” Aiello said. “The character of Annie may just be a lonely, brave orphan on paper, but she is so much more. She teaches us individuality, positivity and the lesson that no one is alone who has friends.

“These lessons are infectious. I promise you will leave this theater with a song in your head and a beautiful life lesson in your heart,” Aiello said. “One of my favorite lines in the show is said by Mr. Warbucks. ‘No matter how much money you’ve got, if you have no one to share your life with, if you’re alone, then you might as well be broke.’ This is a major theme in our show, and I encourage you to take this message and share it with everyone.”



A main issue was that the kids are students and rehearsals took place between 6 and 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

One Saturday during the rehearsal period, there was a lock-in for all the cast members. All kids came in around 3 p.m. to work on the set, costumes and lines.

Then, after their dinner break around 7 p.m., those over the age of 13 were invited to stay for the lock-in portion. They stayed to paint the set, clean, rehearse scenes, go over music and watch movies. By the time 7:30 a.m. rolled around, most of them had fallen asleep.

Ailleo teases that 11 of them supposedly stayed awake all night, but he knows they dozed off. The time the cast spent together created bonds and friendships that make the show even better, he said.


Final prep

This past week leading up to the premiere of Annie Jr., there were a lot of final preparations: adding the lights, music, microphones, and costumes. Then on Tuesday they had their first dress rehearsal.

“We’re going to put it all together and not going to stop, so just go and let’s see what happens. Theater magic, hopefully,” Aiello told the cast.


Dress rehearsal

He said dress rehearsal went really well, they took notes and made improvements. Wednesday and Thursday were the days they worked out any final touches to make sure they were ready for Friday.

Plain Great Players (PGP) is the Youth Academy at Great Plains Theatre that includes kids of all ages. All young actors, tech enthusiasts, dancers, singers, and designers are strongly encouraged to participate in as much as possible around the theatre.

This is an entity of Great Plains Theatre as a professional performing arts space that involves the youth in our community to teach and train them for what being a professional working artist is like.


Main cast

Rachel Ely has the lead role as Annie. Jendaya Leder plays Miss Hannigan and Talon Penry as Warbucks. Liz Collins is Grace, Mason Cook is Rooster and Maren Meneley performs as Lily.

When speaking about the energy one can expect when going to see Annie in the theater, Ailleo says there will be a positive and enlightening theme displayed by all the wacky, pessimistic and motivated characters, especially Annie. There will be many heart-wrenching moments, songs that will stay stuck in the audiences’ head, and a beautiful message all presented by 43 different children.

“The idea of relating it to your life is what we hope inspires the viewer when they leave the theater,” Aiello said.

The people who really make this production happen are show sponsors: Hank Royer, Jeffcoat Memorial Foundation and the Community Foundation of Dickinson county. The show would not be possible without the parents and, of course, the show couldn’t be possible without the children. They are the performers, but the parents really are the support. He explains they are very adamant about thanking the parents because they drive the kids to and from rehearsal every day and want their kids to succeed.

As for the staff, he says, “there is only a few of us but we still make it happen, as well as the board of directors who are always pitching in and doing what they can.”

However, some of the biggest company-wide appreciation goes to the show volunteers. They offer so much appreciated assistance for everyone at the theater, he said.



Another big part of Great Plains Theater are the members of the Abilene community and surrounding areas. Many people in the show and those who come to see it are from other neighboring communities in the central Kansas region, he said.

During the summer, Great Plains Theatre will be introducing three different camps structured around being a fun theater learning experience for all ages. The registration with more details will be up on the theater website in March.

The show dates for Annie Jr. are Feb. 8, 14, and 15 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 9 and 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.

Contact Rebecca Scheller at

Contact Tim Horan at

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