Annie

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With fun songs, a live dog and lots of stage time for child actors, the Villa Playhouse’s “Annie” is a near-perfect family activity this season.

In case you’d forgotten (the movie version skips it), the play takes place at Christmastime, making it all the more timely.

Ruth Jensen plays the red-headed little girl who is rescued from her Depression-era orphanage/sweatshop by the bald and wealthy Oliver Warbucks (Kenneth Jensen). Ruth has a powerful voice for a youngster and will no doubt appeal to little girls in the audience who admire her strength and optimism. Kenneth Jensen tends to yell everything flatly as the blustery Daddy Warbucks, but since this is “Annie” and it’s Christmas, we’re not going to make an issue out of it.

Lara Z. Wells vamps it up big time as the evil and physically agile orphanage mistress Miss Hannigan, earning great laughs with her “Little Girls” song.

There is a lot of dancing; in fact, one could say the show is a bit over-choreographed, as people dance in nearly every single song, even when it seems illogical to do so — and when the song requires staying in one place, they make up for it by using a lot of hand gestures. But it’s impressive just to arrange 16 young girls into an intricately choreographed dance number, and so, as with the use of a live orchestra, one credits the theater for even attempting such a feat, even if it doesn’t always work out 100 percent.

The story, which has Annie searching for her real parents with Daddy Warbucks’s help, is a simple one; conflicts arise and are dealt with relatively quickly, and no one kills anyone else. The optimistic outlook of songs like “Tomorrow” is infectious, and the show, while technically imperfect at times, is sure to bring cheer to anyone who sees it.

One of the greatest moments of my theater career occurred during this show. An audience member had an infant with him -- specifically forbidden by this and every other theater in the world -- who started crying. That's bad enough, but for whatever reason, the man didn't take the child out. And so a theater employee who will remain nameless here came and politely, quietly and without fanfare ushered the man and his crying baby out of the theater. Babies cry a lot at shows; for someone to actually DO something about it is rare indeed.

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