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by Chris Conley

For a young actress with a big voice, theres no better role in musical theater than Annie. Trouble is, good luck finding someone good enough to do it. Annie is supposed to be 11. Rare is the real-life 11 year old who can know all the songs (Annie has ten of them), learn all the lines (shes on-stage in every scene except two), and look plucky and cute not annoying-- when she says Ohhh boooy! a half-dozen times. Truth is were really looking for a Michele Lea-type whos older but can be made to look right playing a young person.

But youd need a very dark heart to say a foul word about Emily Cattanach as Wausau Community Theaters Annie. The Wausau-West freshman is a good singer, has command of her part, and looks a bit like an orphan who is spoiling for a fight at just the right times. Add in 10 more of the cutest ragamuffins in town, and we have a good start.

Oliver Warbucks is the one character whos transformed during the play and Dan Drenk gave us a fine performance as the millionaire no billionaire whose heart is strangely warmed by the homeless girl he hosts two weeks before Christmas. Dan told us during a studio visit that he'd finally found a role where baldness was helpful.

I identify with Bert Healy hes the radio announcer who opens Act Two by announcing the big award to find Annies parents. His song - Youre Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile - has been a tuck-in time favorite with my children for many years. Whoever plays the role knows that theyll be upstaged five minutes later by high-stepping little girls gathered around an orphanage radio. The orphans reenacting the radio drama is one of the evenings high points. And this radio announcer can report that Rob Rasmussen was a fine Bert, and a fine Rooster too.

My 8-year-old daughter will see the show this weekend. Its a great entry-point to the performing arts for a young child. Many boys and girls will see Annie and will think hey, I want to see more of that , and hopefully an adult in their lives will take them to more shows. A few will think hey, I can do that , and maybe theyll go to drama camp or try out for their school play. I suspect my little Rachael will be bubbling inside when she sees Annie. That alone makes this production a blessing.

Chris Conley

PREVIEW (WSAU) I know something that you dont about Sex In The City star Sarah Jessica Parker. Shes a really good singer. I dont think shes sung publicly since she was a child-star in Annie on Broadway in 1979. I saw her as a kid. She was good.

I saw the original Broadway production three times with the roles originator Andrea McArdle in 1977, the aforementioned Ms. Parker two years later, and Anne Smith a year after that. All were good.

This is one of those shows that succeeds or fails in its casting. If you dont have a good Annie, the evenings performance never takes flight. The 1997 revival of Annie was not good, in part because then 8-year-old Brittney Kissinger wasnt ready for the roll. Nell Carter, who did a turn as orphanage-leader Miss Hannigan, carried the production as far as a supporting-actress could.

If you love the theater, this is one of those gateway shows that can spark the interest of youngsters in the audience. Take a kid with you. Theyll bubble when Annie sings Tomorrow. Theyll feel sad as orphans long for their parents. Theyll feel the fun when the kids since and dance while listening to an imaginary radio. Even in the late summer, well recreate Christmas in the final act. I took my oldest daughter to a touring production of Cats 8 years ago; she now wants to go to every play I can get tickets to. This weekend, my youngest daughter goes to her first play. I think Annie will do the trick.

The Wausau Community Theaters production of Annie is at the Grand Theater at Thursday at 6:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 2:00pm. Emily Kattanach is going to be a very good Annie.

Ill post a review after tonights performance.

Chris Conley

By Photographer-Martha Swope, New York (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons