published Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Spunky Meigs County girl leads 'Annie' again

Emmy McKenzie, 10, is playing the title role in "Annie" at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
Emmy McKenzie, 10, is playing the title role in "Annie" at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLAIM TO FAME

Emmy McKenzie, 10, has been acting for two years. She has twice been cast as the lead in regional productions of the musical "Annie."

ABOUT HER

• School: Fifth-grader at Meigs South Elementary.

• Siblings: Brother, Alec McKenzie, 15.

• Favorite book: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.

• Hobbies: Playing guitar, cheerleading, watching movies and jumping rope.

NEXT UP

See Emmy don the curly red wig as the lead in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's upcoming production of "Annie," which runs Dec. 7-23. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. Thursdays. Tickets are $12.50-30 adults, $11.50-25 students, depending on show date and placement.

Watch her: Watch a Theatre Centre promo of the upcoming production of "Annie," starring Emmy McKenzie, here.

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, email staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

For an orphan, attracting the notice of potential adopters is crucial, and having a big voice can go a long way. Emmy McKenzie has that in spades.

In December, the Meigs County 10-year-old will portray the firebrand orphan in a production of "Annie" at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.

Theatre Centre marketing director Jan Belk described Emmy as a "real belter," while her mother, Traci McKenzie, describes her daughter's pipes as her "power voice."

"In the car, I'd make her listen to show tunes with me, and I noticed that she had a really strong voice," McKenzie said. "As she got older, it was building, [and] when she auditioned for 'Annie,' we said to use her power voice."

It was the strength of Emmy's performance of the musical's signature number, "Tomorrow," during her audition that landed her the role.

Even for a much older performer, Emmy's vocals would be impressive, but for a 10-year-old, they were astounding, said Youth Theatre director Maria Chattin-Carter.

"We knew almost right away that she was our Annie," Chattin-Carter said. "She has this confidence in her voice. As far as power, she can blow even some of the adults away."

The Theatre Centre production will mark the second time Emmy has taken on the lead in "Annie" after making her debut as the spunky orphan two years ago.

Going into the audition for her first outing as Annie at The Arts Center in Athens, Tenn., Emmy did not expect to be chosen even for the ensemble cast. Getting the lead came as a shock, but the experience gave bloom to a passion she never knew she had.

"When I did 'Annie,' I felt like something was in me that I felt awesome doing it," Emmy said. "I actually don't get nervous [onstage]. I feel so much more comfortable now because I have more experience."

Last year, she and her mother began commuting an hour each way several times a week take on a supporting role in a Theatre Centre production of "Seussical: The Musical."

As much as she enjoyed the opportunity to spend more time with the younger cast members, Emmy said something felt off after portraying such a prominent role in her first production.

"I didn't have that many lines, but I sang a lot," she said. "I wasn't used to it, so I felt like something was missing."

When the opportunity arose to try out for "Annie" again, Emmy jumped on it.

As powerful as Emmy's vocals are, she only uses her "power voice" when she's confident about her lines, which usually means during songs. When she performed "Annie" in Athens, her singing voice could knock out the back of the house, but she delivered her speaking lines so softly that she needed to be set up with a microphone.

Having one production under her belt, she said her assurance now extends to the whole show. As a result, she feels much more confident for this run.

"Since I've done the first play, I can feel what Annie went through and how she felt about it," she said. "I feel like that goes into me when I'm acting as her.

"I thought I would have even more fun the second time, and so far, it has been."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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