Sunday, June 24, 2018

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ECCT closes winter season with family classic "Annie"

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    Tehya Johnson, 10, and Steve Turek pose as Annie and Oliver Warbucks, respectively, during rehearsals Monday for the Eau Claire Children Theatre’s production of “Annie,” which runs Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 19, at The State Theatre. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik
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Actor Kobi Shaw remembers when she saw Sarah Jessica Parker in “Annie” for the first time on Broadway in the early 1980s. Shaw, who has been acting since around that time, has always dreamed of having a role in the well-known musical.

Though she has been in many productions since that day, Shaw will be taking on her first production of “Annie” with the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre next weekend at The State Theatre, 316 Eau Claire St. 

“Thinking that this show is still around all these years later, audiences still love it and it’s a role little girls dream of playing ... it’s just this classic,” Shaw said. “To finally do it after all these years has just been amazing.” 

Shaw will be playing the show’s villainess, Miss Hannigan — another role she has always wanted to play. 

“Miss Hannigan is just one of those coveted roles for women in musical theater,” Shaw said. 

The classic family-friendly musical is 40 years old this year, and Shaw said it still maintains its popularity with people of all ages.

Case in point: 10-year-old Tehya Johnson of Menomonie will be playing Annie in ECCT’s production. 

Tehya has seen the musical several times and had many of the songs memorized before she even auditioned for the part. 

So how does it feel to put on the red wig and take on the role? 

“Really cool,” Tehya said. 

This is Tehya’s first production with the children’s theater, though she has worked in the past with the Menomonie Theater Guild.

She’s been practicing hard. Her goal to memorize seven pages of the script a day paid off, and her castmate, Tessa Haugle, said Tehya was the first cast member to be rehearsing off the script. 

Tehya said she would practice lines in the car on the drive between Eau Claire and Menomonie, on the way home from school, whenever she could. 

Steve Turek, who is playing Oliver Warbucks, said “it was awesome” to see Tehya so committed to her role. 

She isn’t the only one. This is Turek’s third time playing Warbucks for ECCT’s “Annie,” though he has also taken on the role for the show’s sequel, “Annie Warbucks,” several times in the past. 

“There were so many people excited you were returning to Daddy Warbucks,” Shaw said to Turek during an interview. “You’re THE Daddy Warbucks.” 

Turek, who also saw Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Annie” when the production was in Minneapolis in the 1980s, said he’s always been drawn to the show for its feel-good music and the change Annie brings to his character, as well as all of the characters on the show. 

“It’s one of those shows that there are memories attached to it, and I think that’s what Eau Claire audiences remember,” Turek said.

He also hopes that timelessness goes beyond the concept of the show, bringing children in to see what theater is all about. 

“You’re triggering a new love of theater, or that’s what we are hoping to do as performers,” he said. “The timing has just been perfect to get to do the show at The State.” 

He added this is the last season The State Theatre will be open before it moves into the Confluence Arts Center next fall. 

That is one reason Haugle, who plays Grace, wanted to audition for this production. 

In 1999, Haugle took on the part of Connie Boylan in “Annie” at the State Theatre. It was her first time performing in the iconic downtown Eau Claire venue, and this year it may be her last.

“With everything moving over to the Confluence (in 2018), this will probably be the last show I do at the State as well, and it’s always been one of my favorite shows,” Haugle said. “I wanted to kind of bookend things.”

She and her husband, who were married in The Oxford, have been involved with ECCT for many years. Though excited for the change, Haugle said there is something special about performing on The State’s stage.

“People who have performed at The State know it’s in need of a lot of repair, but it also holds a special place in our hearts because we’ve spent so much time there,” Haugle said.

That is one of the reasons the children’s theater Director Wayne Marek chose to do “Annie” again this year. 

That and other classic productions such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” will close out the children’s theater’s final season at The State. 

“We wanted to make sure we had some big, popular shows to close out our last season, but then we’re also going to be looking ahead very shortly to our 2018-19 season, which will be our 30th anniversary season,” Marek said. 

He thought “Annie” would be the perfect winter closer, just before the holidays when they usually run it. 

He also called the show iconic, and thinks it remains so because of the music, which is amplified with a 21-piece orchestra that accompanies the performers. 

“These are songs everybody knows the tune and walks out humming it,” Marek said. 

He expects the show will draw a large crowd, and said actors will be available for autographs and photos in the theater’s lobby following each performance. 

Sixteen girls dressed as orphans who auditioned to be in the cast but didn’t make the cut will also perform Christmas carols before the performances. 

“Annie” runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19. Tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors, $14 for students and $8 for youth. They can be purchased at http://www.ecct.org" target="_blank">www.ecct.org or by calling 715-939-8877.

Contact: 715-833-9214, katy.macek@ecpc.com, @KatherineMacek on Twitter


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