When Visesia Fakatoufifita went to see “The Little Mermaid” at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in 2017, she had no idea she’d be performing on the very same stage just years later.
What the 11-year-old from Tacoma did know was that she was inspired by Japanese-American actress Diana Huey, who was playing Ariel.
“Right when I saw her I thought, she doesn’t look like Ariel — she looks like me,” Visesia, who is of Tongan descent, said in an interview with The Puyallup Herald. “And I thought, I want to do that.”
And she held onto the thought, said her mother, Brenda Fakatoufifta.
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“That’s all she talked about: ‘Mama, I want to be on that stage,’” she said.
Visesia has been training at Puyallup Children’s Theater & Music Academy since she was 5 and started singing lessons.
Years of training and support helped her land the starring role in this year’s 5th Avenue production of “Annie.”
“I never thought that I was going to be on that stage,” Visesia said.
Surprise of a lifetime
From the beginning, performing was Visesia’s passion. Brenda Fakatoufifta noticed her daughter’s talent for singing when she was 2.
“She’d hit the note every single time,” she said.
Visesia is a student at Northwest Christian School in Puyallup and continually trains in dancing, singing and acting at Puyallup Children’s Theater. She’s starred in various shows, including “Annie Jr.” in 2016.
When Brenda Fakatoufifta saw a poster announcing auditions for 5th Avenue’s “Annie” she encouraged her daughter to audition. In April, she did — and was called back to read for several roles, including Annie.
Hundreds of other kids auditioned for the part.
“This role is so huge that kids will come in (to audition) from neighboring states,” said Becky Cain-Kellogg, director of Puyallup Children’s Theater.
In August, Visesia got the surprise of her life when her father approached her with what she thought was a gift.
“He’s like, ‘We’re so proud of you,’ and ‘You’ve worked so hard to get in,’” Visesia remembered. “And I thought I wasn’t going to get in and I said, ‘This is the end.’”
But the gift was a plaque displaying the offer letter for Visesia to play Annie.
“All I read was, ‘Congratulations,’ and I started crying,” she said.
After weeks of preparation and rehearsal, Visesia performed for the first time at the 5th Avenue on Nov. 23.
While a little shy in person, she says she feels at home on the stage.
“With all the lights on you, you can’t see anybody in the audience,” she said.
The production has a diverse cast with African-American actors in leading roles, including Timothy McCuen Piggee as Daddy Warbucks and Cynthia Jones as Miss Hannigan.
Visesia feels at home playing Annie, a role she shares with Faith Young of Kent.
“She’s very brave and optimistic, it’s like the song ‘Tomorrow’ — today is not very good but tomorrow will get better,” she said.
Her ultimate dream would take her to New York.
“My dream is to be on Broadway,” she said.
Already, Cain-Kellogg said, Visesia has received a letter from another girl stating how great it was to see an actress of color playing Annie.
To other actresses like her, Visesia has some advice: “Keep practicing, keep rehearsing.”
Where: 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave. Seattle
When: Through Dec. 30.
Tickets and more information: 5thavenue.org.