With little fanfare, “Little Orphan Annie” disappeared from the comic strips in June 2010 after an 86-year run, but Creative Stages Youth Theater is making sure she is not forgottten.

The red-headed orphan will be going strong in the musical, “Annie Jr.,” which the strip inspired. Creative Stages opened the show last week for nine performances.

A family favorite since it premiered on Broadway in 1977, “Annie Jr.” features a cast of more than 40 Valley youth actors, performing such familiar songs as “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”

CSYT Artistic Director Jim Gradillas said he chose “Annie Jr.” as the troupe’s holiday production because the final scenes are set during Christmas, and he believes it’s a heartwarming story for the season.

The musical tells the rags-to-riches story of Lil’ Orphan Annie (Savoy Graca) and how she outsmarts Mrs. Hannigan (Melissa Kamel), Rooster (Thomas F. Graca) and Lily (Ashley Sneddon) to become the adopted sweetheart of Daddy Warbucks (Kyle Kadel). Join Grace (Arianna Torman), Drake (Loren Fleisher), Bert Healy (Steven Meythaler), a Star to Be (Savannah Wilson) and a cast of performers, as they bring to life the citizens of New York City during the Depression, showing them how to make their dreams of “Tomorrow” come true.

CSYT’s production is directed by Christian Graca, musically directed by Susan Washburn and choreographed by Victoria Fricker.

The original Broadway production of “Annie” debuted in 1976 and starred Andrea McArdle. The show won seven Tony awards that season.

Many people are familiar with the film versions of the musical, including the 1982 film with Carol Burnett, Albert Finney, Anne Reinking, Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters.

A 1999 Disney television movie featured Victor Garber, Audra McDonald, Alan Cumming, Kristen Chenowith and Kathy Bates.

In its first year, CSYT used performance spaces shared by another theater group, a church and a school in Peoria, as well as multiple locations loaned for rehearsals and tech work. Despite these and other practical challenges, the theater managed to make its first season a critical and financial success by adding several fundraising events, comedy-variety shows, camps and workshops to its schedule; expanding casts, crews, supporters and audiences; and earning 12 National Youth Theatre awards and nominations for 2009-2010.

Keeping its base in Peoria in order to continue building the arts in the West Valley, Creative Stages moved into its first full-time location at 19209 N. 83rd Ave. just in time for its second season to begin in September 2010.

Now in its third season, Creative Stages continues to bring critically acclaimed theater experiences to youth actors and audiences alike. Not only does the theater provide rich entertainment, but it is also known for its original works from students and other local playwrights.

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