MERCED -- This weekend Playhouse Merced rings in the holidays with the opening of "Annie," the classic musical of the lovable redheaded orphan whose plucky nature wins her friends, safety and a father.
"Christmas has always been my favorite time of year," director and choreographer Noelle Chandler said, "and as the education director I work extremely well with kids, making something like 'Annie' a natural choice."
Set in 1930s America, the Tony Award-winning musical comedy is based on the long-running comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," and tells the story of a Depression-era orphan who dreams of leaving the Municipal Girls Orphanage and its dreadful supervisor, Miss Hannigan.
"This particular piece is all about family and closeness and change for the better," Chandler said, "and being pregnant with my first child around Christmastime, I can't think of a more appropriate piece for me to be a part of."
"Annie" is musically directed by Joel Scott Shade, and features Mercedian Bethany Lawrence in the lead role as Annie, and Central Valley actors Valiant Reyes as Oliver Warbucks and Liz Phillips as Miss Hannigan. In addition, the show features a supporting cast of more than 25 actors, singers and dancers.
"I have been watching 'Annie' since I was 5 years old, and it has always been one of my favorite movies," Bethany said. "My favorite part of Annie is singing the song 'Tomorrow.' It has always inspired me because of its message that no matter how hard things get in my life, it will always be better tomorrow," Lawrence said. "It is a song of hope."
Other songs featured include "It's the Hard Knock Life," "Maybe" and "Easy Street."
" 'Annie' is a family show," Valiant Reyes said. "There's something in it for everybody, kids or the young at heart, and it fits the season. My favorite part would be the kids in the show. I shared it before, and I will share it again: After you watch the first two scenes, it will totally melt your heart."
Chandler has found staging a production during the holidays to be particularly difficult with seasonal illnesses and jam-packed social schedules.
"But all my thanks goes out to my fabulous cast and crew for being flexible and committed in everything they do," she said.
Chandler is excited to see all their hard work pay off in the opening night this weekend.
"What's not to enjoy?" she said. "Toe-tapping songs, a precocious orphan, a sandy-colored stray dog, a phenomenal cast of adults which span the spectrum of characters from virtuous to villainous.
"Plus a gorgeous mansion and the tallest Christmas tree we've ever had on stage," Chandler said. "This show has something to brighten everyone's holiday season."
RATED: A = All Ages
WHEN: Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons from today through Dec. 16; evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Playhouse Merced
COST: Tickets are adults $20, seniors $19, students $10 and children $8. Buy tickets at 452 W. Main St., Merced, or call (209) 725-8587.