Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s production of Annie (playing through Dec. 22) is a G-rated outing, starring lots of kid actors, which amounts to perfect holiday fare for the whole family. Just don’t be surprised if your kids start belting out show tunes for days after. Or ask for a dog like Sandy. Sigh.
Premiering on Broadway in 1977, the blockbuster, multiple Tony-Award-winning musical starring a plucky red-headed orphan features the songs we all know (and either love, or hate): “Tomorrow,” “Hard Knock Life,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”
Aas a community theater, Tacoma Musical Playhouse is not The Great White Way. But don’t be put off by the theater’s drab exterior and rather worn lobby (it’s housed in the old Narrows movie house, built in 1948). Once you’re in your seats, the sets, costumes, songs and live music will transport you to the 1930s Depression and Daddy Warbucks’ gilded mansion. The theater is relatively small, which means there are really no bad seats.
Based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie (created by Harold Gray in 1924 and running in American newspapers until 2010), the show follows an 11-year-old orphan who just wants to find her parents. She is plucked from the orphanage — run by the child-hating, alcohol-swilling matron Miss Hannigan — to spend Christmas with billionaire impresario Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks.
Warbucks pledges to help Annie find her parents, offering a substantial reward and mobilizing his political connections to aid in the search. Meantime, Warbucks falls for the little red-head and plans to adopt her — a plan that’s almost foiled by a scam cooked up by Miss Hannigan and her smooth-talking brother and his girlfriend. In the end, of course, all is well and Annie gets to live happily ever after with her beloved Daddy Warbucks.
My kids, ages 11 and 8, had recently watched the 1982 Annie movie (featuring Carol Burnett as a fabulously awful Miss Hannigan) and picked up on the many differences between the movie and the musical. To my mind, the play transmits a greater sense of place and history, with Annie running away to a Hooverville encampment, going on a live radio show and visiting Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s cabinet (this gave us a great chance to discuss The Great Depression after the show). Both kids really enjoyed seeing kids their own age take center stage (two different seventh graders share the role of Annie, depending on performance day); all Annie’s friends in the orphanage are child actors under age 13 (the youngest is eight.) They also got a kick out of seeing Sandy the dog on stage (and laughing when the adorable canine strained at its leash, seemingly wanting to bolt off the stage.)
“Is that Annie’s real hair? What does Leapin’ Lizards even mean?”
Parents should know
The theater says its productions are generally appropriate for ages 6 and up. We saw plenty of kids younger than that at the matinee we attended, but keep in mind your child’s stamina; the show runs about two hours and 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
The cast lines up in the lobby after the show for a meet-and-greet and photo-op with audience members. My daughter was most excited to meet Sandy the dog. Be forewarned: $7 “Sandy” stuffed animals are on sale in the lobby.
As to heads-up on content: Daddy Warbucks has a penchant for the word “dammit.” Miss Hannigan is a flirt and a drunk, frequently sipping from her handy flask. There’s a scene in a Hooverville (a homeless encampment) where they sing “we’ve got no turkey for our stuffing, we’d like to stuff you” in reference to Herbert Hoover (who was widely blamed for the Depression). But much of the political content will go right over kids’ heads. That said, my kids and I had a great talk after the show about what the Depression was and what it meant to our country.
If you go ...
Where and when: Annie plays at Tacoma Musical Playhouse through Dec. 22. Show times are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $29 adults, $20 children ages 12 and under.
Tips: Parking is a snap with a free Park-and-Ride lot right across the street. Boosters are available on request. Seriously yummy looking $3 chocolate-dipped brownies and chocolate mask lollipops from a Gig Harbor chocolate shop are on offer, as well as candy and drinks. You'll find no espresso stand here, just drip coffee.
Age recommendation: Tacoma Musical Playhouse says generally its productions are suitable for ages 6 and up — see above for more details. Running time is about 2 hours and 40 minutes.
About the author: Lynn Schnaiberg is author of Outside magazine’s Urban Adventure Chicago and a nationally published, award-winning journalist.