Kelly and Carmen Henkle smile as they finish their stage make-up. The ACT1 “Annie” production included 18 families who had two or more people invovled in the performance.

Whether a theater professor would call it “irony,” “paradox,” or something else, it was inspiring to see so many families represented on the ACT 1 stage, beautifully (and ironically or paradoxically) telling us the story of an orphan.

On Sunday, I did what I don’t do nearly enough concerning community events. I left my camera, phone, and even my reading glasses in the car, and went to our local community theatre group’s final show of the famous musical, just to watch, and enjoy it.

I had sat through most of one dress rehearsal, and more than half of another one, thoroughly enjoying it. I even brought a couple granddaughters to one rehearsal.

But focusing on taking photos, with my eyes on the small area bordered by the rectangular view-finder, makes it hard to see, hear – and most importantly, feel – what’s happening on the entire stage.

What was happening is that as many as 18 different families came together, sharing the acting, singing and dancing talents of children, parents and grandparents, to make a show that thrilled audiences and created a lifetime of memories for the many people who worked for so long, so hard to make the show so good.

From the very first soothing notes of “Tomorrow” from John Fuoto’s trumpet, to the final exclamation of “Sandy,” ACT1’s “Annie” was a melodious, inspiring gem that made everyone in the audience, and on-stage, feel at home.

I loved being a part of the production, and getting to take the stage with my daughter,” says Kelly Henkle, who in her first acting performance ever, played the major role of Grace Farrell, personal secretary to billionaire Oliver Warbucks.

I haven’t really acted before, although I played a small role in an ACT1 production as a girl, and was excited to audition for a show with Carmen,” says Kelly. “To be able to share this together has been so special, and to hear that so many members of the community have enjoyed the show is wonderful. The entire cast and crew worked so hard, and Carmen and I enjoyed playing our parts.

Kelly, who was involved in the Voyagers dance team in high school and also sings in the Vinton Presbyterian Church choir, said she chose to get involved in “Annie” after seeing how interested Carmen was in the show.

Kelly’s shared a few favorite memories she shared with Carmen: “Her applying my stage makeup, and running lines at home with her, and her brothers, Graham and Loren, and also seeing her sing her solo parts.”

Mark Mossman played the role of Judge Louis Brandeis, who oversees the adoption proceedings for Annie and Daddy Warbucks.

I asked Mark, before that final show, if it had ever occurred to him that he would share a stage with his granddaughters, as well as his son. John Mossman played the role of the policeman who captures Annie when she runs away. John’s granddaughter, Chloe, played the role of the orphan Pepper; her sister, Sophie, was one of the orphan dancers.

Mark said no, acting in “Annie” with his granddaughters was not something he had ever imagine, but he said he definitely enjoyed the unique opportunity.

And as great as “Annie” was, and as fun as it was for all of those families to participate in it together, there will be much more to come says Alex Vasquez, one of the co-directors.

What I think going forward we at ACTI of Benton County can offer shows that people of all ages and experience can participate in, that produce wonderful memories, and that audiences can watch and take joy and inspiration from” says Alex, whose daughter, Sophia, played the orphan Duffy.

This production was populated entirely by exceptionally talented and devoted people of all ages 5 and up. We had I think 18 different families participating in the show and I cannot fully express the joy and happiness I felt watching parents, children, and grandparents sharing stage space and working together to bring their characters to life,” says Alex. “I’ve made so many little friends among our younger participants who never failed to make me smile – Henry, Presley, our Mollys, and little Katelyn – I’ve been left awed by the talents of our middle and high school performers, and have been able to watch adults I have known for some time absolutely shine on stage.  ‘Annie’ is a story exactly right for community theatre and when it’s put into the hands of our incredible local talent, well, I honestly can’t explain how joyful it was. You had to be there and be a part of it to understand.” 

Alex’s directing partner, Joan Cooling Noeller, agreed.

For me personally it was very joyful to work with my son Charley in the band,” Joan says. “During performances, I would have ‘proud Mom’ moments from backstage with my ears on the percussion.  I often saw several of our families hugging each other and wishing each other well behind the scenes.”

The sense of family, among cast members who were and were not related, permeated the building, says Joan. 

When you have a sense of family backstage, the quality of the production onstage is always better,” she explains. “A family takes care of each other and helps each other.  While we were fortunate to have lots of parents and children in the show together, we mainly just had a great group of individuals of the finest character, both children and adults, coming together to create the larger “Annie” family.  That is community theatre at its finest. To witness one girl who plays “Annie” walk up and hand part of her flowers to the other girl who plays “Annie” right before the curtain call left me speechless.  To know that even in a double cast of children there was genuine respect and regard for one another and to see wonderful acts of kindness throughout the entire production left me feeling we had done something right with this show.”

Like Alex, Joan looks forward to what ACT1 will continue to offer in the years to come.

In the future, I hope that ACT I can create more family memories through live theatre,” she says. “Theatre teaches empathy, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and feel what others feel.  This community is full of talent, and it is my hope that ACT I continues to be an outlet where all are welcome.”  

See more photos of “Annie” HERE.