Comedian W.C. Fields advised never to work with animals or children but those concerns of chaos or excessive cuteness are no problem for the directors of "Annie," opening this weekend at Stars Theatre Restaurant.
Both Amber O'Reilly and Frank Sierra, who helmed this new production of the classic Broadway musical, are ecstatic about their cast.
"Frank and I laugh that we tend to get the shows with animals and kids," O'Reilly said.
The pair have directed children's workshops together as well as "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," featuring a dog and children, in 2018 at Stars.
"I feel like I tend to be more attracted to the shows with kids in it," she said.
Both directors praise their star, Addison Cline, who plays the optimistic orphan looking for a home to call her own.
O'Reilly said, "She is a small wonder, to say the least! She is only 10 years old and she leads and carries this 29-person cast and production with miraculous ease. She is beyond smart and talented. She is sure to capture many hearts with her talent and lovable spirit!"
Sierra added, "She's a star in the making. I can't wait to see her grown and do amazing things theatrically."
The nine other orphans — Josephine Resolme, Reagan Actis, Elle Adams, Elena Ellis, Gwen Grider, Evangeline Heber, Lauren Kaff, Kaya Leyendecker and Brooklyn Robers — and dog also add something special to the ensemble.
Sandy is played by Barry, a golden Lab owned by Bruce Saathoff, Stars' artistic director who also plays Daddy Warbucks.
"It’s his debut," O'Reilly said of the canine. "He takes directions really well. He’s never missed a beat."
"It's always fun to have a real dog and have the kids involved in it and have an adult cast," Sierra said. "I'm excited for people to see it."
Also helping matters is the fact that the show is one both directors know well. O'Reilly got her "Annie" start at age 12 playing fellow orphan ("Oh my goodness!") Tessie for Bakersfield Civic Light Opera, a precursor to Bakersfield Music Theatre and Stars.
"I've done it six times," O'Reilly said. "It was my first show I ever did with them (Stars) as a kid."
Along with watching the 1982 film frequently, Sierra also took part in many theatrical shows including playing radio announcer Bert Healy.
"The story, the music — it’s a fun show," he said. "It's always been one of my favorite musicals."
For this production, both praised the performances in "Easy Street," a number in which orphanage matron Miss Hannigan (Rosie Ayala) plots with her no-good brother, Rooster (Zachary Gonzalez), and his girlfriend, Lily St. Regis (Kelci Cerri), to get the reward money for finding Annie's parents.
"To choreograph them, they're a talented group of performers, along with everyone else," Sierra said.
O'Reilly echoed that sentiment: "The dancers are great and it's really high energy. All the actors are so good, really professional."
The cast also features Sarah Hadley, Enrique Acosta and Randy Jelmini (as President Franklin D. Roosevelt).
Since music is key to the production, O'Reilly had much to say about the musicians working under the direction of Cody Greenwell.
"The orchestra is phenomenal," she said. "When we ran through it, they sounded divine. I don’t think there’s another theater that has that level of orchestra involved in their productions. They make it so special."
Along with having a good time, O'Reilly said she would love for audiences the theater with a message of hope.
"I would like them to take away the optimism of a better tomorrow," she said. "It’s kind of cliche but you’ve got to keep hope alive. It’s a great message for not getting too discouraged."