Annie rehearsals

The cast of orphans, including the leads and the ensemble, rehearse 'Hard Knock Life' during rehearsal of "Annie" in the Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. They have been rehearsing since October and the show opens this Friday at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills in the Hall of Liberty. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / December 18, 2013)

Julia Swanwick, the president of the Burbank Community Theater, had a problem. A big one.

A cast of children, arriving in October for the first rehearsal of “Annie,” the company’s debut production, milled around outside the recreation center of Robert Gross Park. But Swanwick didn’t have the keys, and the kids needed to be sent home.

Despite the initial hiccups, the musical is set to open this Friday at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in the Hall of Liberty. And Swanwick couldn’t be happier.

PHOTOS: Burbank Community Theater's debut, Annie

Auditions were held for a cast of more than 70. That cast, with some experienced actors, includes several children in major roles, and many adults who haven't ever been on stage before.

Breathing life into a show is an art form that comes to life in front of an audience, but for the cast and crew the process is grueling and long.

Not only is the cast enormous, it's a musical and the layers are many. Marty O'Malley, who plays Lt. Ward, who admittedly doesn't sing, jokes: “When did Annie become a musical? I didn't sign up for this.”

Music director Ryan Luevano has taught non-singers how to sing, and worked with an orchestra who until last Thursday hasn't rehearsed with the cast.

The costume department was created on the fly. Swanwick worked to find period outfits online, but most of the cast is responsible to bring costumes for the multiple parts they play at their own expense.

Generosity is in huge supply. House manager Andrea Jensen has created hundreds of props by hand, including postage that looks like stamps from the 1930s.

The fees for using the auditorium inside the Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn have been waived due to the nonprofit status of the theater, as well as a partnership the theater developed with the Burbank Fire Department Spark of Love toy drive.

However, the auditorium has been a mixed-blessing. There is virtually no back stage, and actors awaiting their turn in the spotlight often have to wait outside.

And producing a show at a cemetery means the stage may not always be available. On Monday, the set — built by three people — had to be dismantled at the end of the night's rehearsal for an event Forest Lawn hosted the following day.

Despite the bumps, the opportunity to be on stage and act is for some the chance of a lifetime. Dinora Lopez, of North Hollywood, said she is nervous and excited for her first show.

But the experienced actors, like Rachel Diana, who plays Miss Hannigan in the show, simply smiles.

“I do this because I love it,” she said.

The show Friday and Saturday begins at 7 p.m., while the Sunday show starts at 2 p.m. Tickets at $20 for adults and $15 for students, with special pricing for seniors and service members.

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Follow Tim Berger on Twitter: @hippitypix.

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