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Theater Review: "Annie" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

It's the moppet show!

Tacoma Musical Playhouse presents the classic musical "Annie" about an adorable and lovable orphan - played by Julia Wyman - looking for a place to call home. Photo courtesy of TMP

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Try as we might, we critics look forward to some productions more than others. From our perspective, the newer, more cutting-edge shows cluster in late spring and summer, as do the Shakespeares and edgier musicals. Autumn ushers in every new theater season with tried-and-true popular favorites, and as for the holidays ... well. ...

Oh, look, it's Annie! Yes, it's "that little chatterbox, the one with the pretty auburn locks," and her little dog, too. We know this show back and forth. So do you: twice on Saturday afternoon, a Tacoma Musical Playhouse patron accidentally blurted the next line. But as long as there are adorable faux-orphans with ticket-buying grandparents who want nothing more than to grin at their progeny through bucket-sloshing rounds of "Hard Knock Life," there'll be productions of this heartwarming musical. The question is: how good is TMP's incarnation?

The answer: quite merry. I was impressed by Bruce Haasl's scenic design, which allows for smooth transitions between settings all over the Big Apple. I've always admired Haasl's sets for the mortally wounded Capital Playhouse, and now it's clear he's a fine fit for TMP. The latter company struggled for years with muddy acoustics, but aside from a few saggy brass notes early on, Jeffrey Stvrtecky's orchestra is in impeccable form here. It raises the bar for TMP's next show, the '60s-themed Shout! The Mod Musical.

Most of all, you probably want to know about optimistic Annie and that mean ol' Miss Hannigan. This time around, it's Sharry O'Hare's turn to don the frazzled bathrobe and swig from a fortifying flask. She's exactly where she should be, six inches over the top. As for the lead, director Jon Douglas Rake double-cast the role, meaning you'll get one of two bewigged moppets in that signature red velvet dress. The performance I attended starred Julia Wyman, a seventh-grader with an opera-trained voice, who pealed through dozens of high notes with clarity and had comic chops to boot. (You might also catch Madison Watkins, most recently young Cosette in TMP's October Les Miz.)  "Sophia Loren" hits her marks as Sandy, and - not to credit him lower than the dog - Mark Rake-Marona plays a warm Daddy Warbucks. I liked the show's color-blind casting, which cleared the way for Eric Clausell to play O'Hare's con-artist brother. Clausell, so memorable as Coalhouse in TMP's Ragtime, is entertaining here, as is Kathy Kluska as Lily, his moll. They enliven a by-the-numbers subplot, a scam exposed by every character but Annie.

So yes, the sun'll come out you-know-when, and no, you're never fully dressed without a you-know-what. The show demands work from small actors, but the kids on this stage deliver. I was entertained almost in spite of myself.

Note: A Charlie Brown Christmas, a TMP premier, runs Christmas week. Tickets are a mere $10 apiece.

ANNIE, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Dec. 22, Tacoma Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $20-$29, 253.565.6867

See Also

The Stardust Christmas Blizzard at Harlequin Productions

Lyle the Crocodile at Olympia Family Theater

It's a Wonderful life at Tacoma Little Theatre

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