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Dexter Community Players' School of Hard Knocks Opens Today with 'Annie: The Musical'

The heartwarming musical by Thomas Meehan will be performed at the Dexter Performing Arts Center this weekend.

The Dexter Community Players' production of the hit 1977 musical Annie will open at the Performing Arts Center beginning today.

The musical is based on the 1920s comic strip written by Harold Gray and tells the story of a plucky young orphan girl (Ashley Harlock of Ann Arbor) adopted by wealthy businessman Oliver Warbucks (Karl Schmidt of Chelsea). The show features a chorus line of precocious orphans, played by local area youth, a too-cute dog (Megan Kempf), the wickedly wretched Miss Hannigan (Caroline Huntoon), and one of Broadway's most memorable scores, including "It's the Hard-Knock Life," and the ever-optimistic "Tomorrow."

The show is led by Barbara Jo Danner of Whitmore Lake, who has been directing shows throughout Southeast Michigan for the past 40 years.

"'I'm really excited that we were able to bring the stage version of Annie to Dexter," Danner said. "With the show being redeployed on Broadway later this year for its 35th anniversary, now was the right time to try it with the Dexter Community Players."

Danner, who returns to the DCP after more than 10 years, said the cast of 30 actors has been rehearsing the show since mid-May.

"Working with everyone has been a fabulous experience," she said. "It is one of the most talented casts I've worked with in a long time, which makes my job easier."

Ashley Harlock of Ann Arbor, is making her lead debut as Annie. The spunky 10-year-old said she is thrilled to be sharing the stage with her fellow thespians.

"All of the girls who play the orphans are like sisters," she said. "I've learned a lot from Karl (Schmidt), who plays Daddy Warbucks. He's really nice and he is always encouraging me to try new things."

No stranger to the stage, Harlock has been acting since the age of 5, debuting in the Young People's Theater version of Annie as the orphan Molly.

"Being cast as Annie is a dream come true," she said. "The musical is a lot of fun and I like being on stage with all the other actors."

Harlock was most recently seen on stage in the 's 2011 production of The Music Man, and during Memorial Day weekend, she traveled to New York to attend a musical workshop to work alongside Andrea McArdle, Broadway's original orphan Annie.

"Ashley is a natural actor. She's been singing since she was 2," Caroline Keen, Ashley's mother said. "It's so much fun seeing her dance and perform on stage."

Schmidt, who starred as Sweeney in the DCP's musical Sweeney Todd, returns to the stage after a brief hiatus while teaching voice lessons at Concordia University and Hillsdale College.

"The fun part is working with the kids," he said. "This is my first chance to work with young people and it's been such an eye-opening experience. All of the kids are very talented."

Schmidt said he's always been impressed with the caliber of shows the DCP puts on.

"The type of shows DCP puts together are shows you can be proud of and feel good about," he said. "It's fun to keep coming back and perform new roles that are both exciting and challenging."

Annie opens today at the Performing Arts Center inside Dexter High School. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for children. For more information about the DCP's upcoming season, visit http://dextercommunityplayers.com/.

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