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When kids get out of their comfort zone
Linda Eyre, left, with Richard Eyre and their daughter Charity when they saw "Annie the Musical" in London. - photo by Linda and Richard Eyre
During our recent visit to London to visit one of our daughters, we went to a revival of the musical "Annie." It was fabulous.

We had forgotten what an uplifting and energizing Broadway show this one is. The story of Depression-era America, of FDR and the New Deal, and of billionaire Daddy Warbucks who adopts little orphan Annie.

We wish there were more shows like this.

But the show has special meaning to us because 30 years ago, our daughters became enamored with all things "Annie" and sang songs like Tomorrow and Its a Hard Knock Life as incessantly as kids sing Let It Go and other songs from "Frozen" today.

Saydi, then 11 years old, had sung "Tomorrow" for her auditions for singing groups and various performances for years, and our oldest daughter Saren, then 16, only liked one thing better than acting, and that was directing. So, that summer, while we were staying at Bear Lake and working on a book, our three daughters decided to create the Dingle, Idaho, production of "Annie." We spread the word that a show was going to be produced, and in June, Saren held auditions that drew potential thespians from across the rural areas of southeastern Idaho.

Saren was blessed by the advantage that she didnt know how hard it was to put together a production, so she just did it, and some amazing talent showed up. A music teacher from Montpelier, Shirley Harris, a marvelous musician, became our whole orchestra.

Cute little farm kids threw themselves into the parts of the orphans, and a woman named Jolaine Skinner turned out to be a Broadway quality Miss Hannagan. A local guy named Mark Jacobs shaved his head and won the part of Daddy Warbucks. Our middle daughter, Shawni, the least dramatic of the three, played the straight-laced Grace Farrell. Saren even found a local dog that was perfect for the part of Sandy. Saydi, of course, in all her glory, and with her hair dyed red and tightly curled, was an irrepressible Annie, belting out her songs with verve and gusto.

I, Richard, managed to win the audition for President Roosevelt. And our boys helped as stage crew. Linda, with a brand-new baby our much younger fourth daughter Charity the one we are now visiting in London, also was watching out for two kids with chicken pox, so she did well just to get us all to the practices.

Seamstresses and set designers came out of the woodwork, and the production gathered momentum. Our friend Vicki Sparks helped pull everything together and seemed to be able to find whatever the production needed, and her daughter Monique was a knock-out Lilly St. Regis. We practiced every night for weeks and were finally ready for the two performances in the cultural hall of the local LDS chapel. Tickets were $2 per person or $5 for a family. All the proceeds were to go toward building a new parking lot for the church.

Both performance sold out, which is saying quite a lot in a community where we needed every man, woman and child in the whole town to fill the hall; and it was one of the most enthusiastic audiences ever, partly because almost everyone had a cousin or an uncle or a child in the cast. Our amateur performers rose to the occasion, and put on a remarkably entertaining show complete with multiple curtain calls and standing ovations.

There were also some inadvertent humorous moments. The second night, during a scene change, I, Richard, as FDR, who used a wheelchair, was walking across the stage to get in position for the next act when someone inadvertently opened the curtain. The audience saw me walking, and someone at the back of the hall yelled, Its a miracle!

The point of the story, and probably the reason we were so emotional and teary-eyed as we watched the revival on the London stage, is that families and amateurs and members of a community or neighborhood are capable of coming together and doing amazing things. We live in a world today where our entertainment is so accessible and so pre-packaged and so easy to get on our large and small screens that we rarely create any innovative recreation for ourselves.

It may be harder to do these things today, but maybe we should all look for little chances to create, to work together, to find our hidden talents and to get our kids out of their comfort zones and into something they will always remember whether it is a new sport or music experience, or even putting on a neighborhood concert or dramatic play.
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