Either become a redhead or wear a wig, those were the options.

Elie James didn't hesitate. She would cut her hair, go red and curl it up to become orphan Annie. No wig.

Wigs are itchy, the 10-year-old said. And she once had a wig come off last minute during a play. It didn't go well.

So on Wednesday, Elie was at Harrahs Salon on 12th Street getting her hair cut and a fade-off conditioner and color put in by salon co-owner and stylist Luann Harrah.

As Luann clipped the locks Elie had been growing out for a year, Elie's mother, Annette James, mentioned that Elie's hair was getting close to the length of the emergency pixie cut she received when she was 4 and had a minute alone with a pair of safety scissors while doing a craft one afternoon.

Elie just smiled into the salon mirror. She has grown up plenty since then and is excited to take on what has been her "dream role" since watching the 1982 film "Annie."

"I like how she's tough about everything," Elie said. "She never gives up and she's kind."

Elie will do her best to bring those characteristics to the stage during The Theatre Project's production of the musical "Annie" at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7–8 and Dec. 14–15, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 and Dec. 15.

The musical will be performed in the Grand Junction High School auditorium, 1400 N. Fifth St. Elie will perform as Annie in all but one of those performances, handing off the limelight for one night to her understudy.

There are more than 120 people acting in the production, 90 of them children, said Dana Schmidt-Clingman, director for "Annie" and artist director for The Theatre Project.

There also are multiple family members from several families cast in the musical, she said.

There's a mother and daughter, a husband and wife, and in Elie's case, her entire immediate family plus a couple cousins. Even Elie's grandma, Mary Anne Pacini, got in on the show by making Elie's dress for "Annie."

Elie's parents, Josh and Annette James, will play Rooster and his girlfriend, Lily. Elie's brother, Jesse James, 7, will be part of the chorus along with one of those cousins and the two will get to play tag in one scene.

"He likes to make everybody laugh," Annette said of her son.

Annette hadn't planned to audition for "Annie," but the director asked her to give it a shot, so she did.

"I haven't been on the stage in more than 20 years," she said. The last time was her junior year of high school with "Hello, Dolly!"

Josh has been involved with a number of The Theatre Project productions both off and on the stage, including the role of Oberon in last summer's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," He is the nonprofit's community liaison and directs its Original Script program that allows kids to create their own stage productions from the plot to the music.

For his role as Rooster in "Annie," Josh grew a mustache and after the last performance, "I don't care how late it is, I'm going to cut it off," he said.

"Yeah, that doesn't stay," Annette said.

Despite the mustache, the family has enjoyed the challenges of all being part of one production, all attending rehearsals and each of them having a character to develop.

"We get to play opposite each other, which is kind of nice," Josh said of himself and Annette.

In "Annie," which is set in the early 1930s in New York City, Rooster is the evil brother of the horrible Miss Hannigan, who operates the orphanage Annie escapes from after deciding to find her parents.

During her adventures away from the orphanage, Annie meets billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who wants to adopt her, but agrees to help her find her parents by offering a sizable reward for them to come forward.

Rooster and his girlfriend, Lily, pose as Annie's parents in an attempt to get the reward and share it with Miss Hannigan.

"I have to act like a floozy and I'm not a floozy," Annette said of Lily.

Seeing each member of his family grow as a performer has been fun, particularly watching Elie figure out Annie, Josh said.

Elie definitely likes "being the main part," she said. She has been acting since she was 5 and thrives on the interaction she has with theater friends and getting to act with adults.

Her favorite songs in "Annie" are "Maybe," in which Annie sings about how good it would be to find her parents, and "Tomorrow," which has the message that "there's no need to be sad. The next day is coming up," Elie said.

And speaking of tomorrow, "she may love being a redhead so much, she'll want to make it permanent," Annette said.

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