Reilly Richardson came home from Lexington Children's Theatre one day in 2002 and told her family the big news: There was going to be a summer family musical production of Annie, and the theater didn't want just kids to try out. It also wanted their parents and other relatives to audition.
Her mother and sister made it pretty clear that they would not do that, but as Jim Richardson tucked his little girl into bed, she said, "You're going to audition, aren't you?"
What could Dad say?
That year, the father-and-daughter duo did audition. Reilly was cast as an orphan, and Jim as Daddy Warbucks. Since then, they have been in numerous shows together, topped by the 2007 production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, in which Reilly played Belle and Jim was Belle's father, Maurice.
"We got to sing a duet in that, which made it really special," said Jim, who returns to his original role as Daddy Warbucks in the Children's Theatre remounting of Annie, its 10th annual Summer Family Musical. Reilly, now a musical theater major at the University of Michigan, also is back, this time as Lily St. Regis, one of the con artists who conspire to steal Annie from Warbucks.
The Richardsons are just a few of the numerous actors and families returning to the Summer Family Musical.
Will Swisher, who starred in December's production of The Neverending Story, proudly pointed out his entire immediate family in costume before Monday night's dress rehearsal. His dad, Bob Swisher, plays President Franklin D. Roosevelt; his mother, Debbie, plays a couple of roles, including a member of FDR's cabinet; and his sister, Anne Marie, is one of the orphans.
"The thing that's really great is rehearsal usually pulls our family apart," said Will, who is active in Children's Theatre. "But with this show, rehearsal brings us together."
"I grew up doing musicals," said Jeremy Kisling, the theater's associate artistic director in charge of education. He is co-directing Annie with his wife, Amie, LCT's associate education director. "I thought, 'What if we made this more than just putting on a family musical? What if we really made it a show by families, for families?'"
Jim Richardson said, "It's sort of like if your son played Little League baseball, and you got to play with him."
Kisling acknowledged that it's much more easily done in theater, where the parents of student actors can take on age-appropriate roles. For instance, one of the orphans, played by Madison Nau, is terrorized by Miss Hannigan, the orphanage director with no love for little girls. Madison's mother, Martha Nau, plays Miss Hannigan.
At the center of this 10th-anniversary show is Alexandra Simpson, the self-described "newbie" who is making her LCT debut in the title role.
None of Alexandra's relatives is in the show, but she said can feel the unique atmosphere of the family show.
"These are the happiest people I have ever met," said Alexandra, 11, a student at The Lexington School. "I came in here for the first time, and everyone was so nice to me, and it feels like a family."
Kisling said the family productions have helped the theater recruit new board members and sponsors. They also give parents a much better idea of what their children love about Lexington Children's Theatre.
"There's a memory for all of these kids in every corner of the building," Jim Richardson said.
And some of those memories are with their fellow students' parents.
"Where else can you find a place where parents and kids are together, and the parents want to be your friend and help you?" asked Alaina Broderson, a recent graduate of the School for Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School, who was also an orphan in that first Annie production and plays Warbucks' assistant, Grace, in the current production.
Recalling Summer Family Musical casts, Jim Richardson said many of the kids have gone on to pursue the arts in college and beyond. The original Annie, Katie Berger, is now a student in Northern Kentucky University's musical theater program and appearing in SummerFest's production of The Rocky Horror Show this weekend.
"The first time we did this, I felt like I was helping Reilly get through the show," Jim Richardson said. "Now she's doing this professionally, and she's helping me with tips and advice."
Of course, she was the one who got him to audition.