While it will probably kill whatever credibility I have as a rocker, I have a confession to make: I had a slight obsession with Annie when I was younger. I was so enamored by the pupil-less red-headed moppet that it makes my son’s fascination with Doctor Who look mild by comparison.
It all began when I was in the second grade and two girls who I went to school lip-synched and acted out a few of the songs from the show as a treat for the rest of the class. I don’t know if they had recently seen a touring production of it or merely had the album, but three songs into Side One and I was hooked. There was “Tomorrow” of course, which I was already familiar with, but there were others I hadn’t heard including an opening tune in which every line began with the word “maybe” and a plucky little number that caused the girls to mimic scrubbing the hardwood floors of our schoolroom.
Oh, I desperately wanted a copy of that Original Broadway Cast Recording, but as I recall, I never asked for it. As a general rule, my mother didn’t buy albums. She was a product of the “45” era and felt that singles were a much better investment so I assumed that even if I asked for it, I probably wouldn’t get it, so why bother?
Deep down, I think I also knew that merely learning the songs in my bedroom wouldn’t be enough and that sooner or later, I would want to perform them. Annie was the greatest role for a young girl since Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz or Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and considering that I possessed the same big, booming voice of Andrea McArdle…I totally knew I could play it. However, in order to do that, I would need to see the show and I had about a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening. My folks were not “theater people” and although we enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, I knew that Annie tickets were not in the budget. Unless someone made it into a movie or tickets fell from the sky, it was a safe bet that I was staying home. Talk about your hard-knock life!
When I was in the fourth grade my dream of playing my favorite character came true…sort of. My class performed James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie” poem as a shadow play and as fate would have it, I was cast in the title role. Although it is totally not the same thing and the poem has nothing to do with the comic strip or the musical, I took the whole thing very seriously. I “washed the cups and saucers up” as if Miss Hannigan was after me and “brushed the crumbs away” as though my performance was first step on my path to the Great White Way.
However, my Annie obsession kicked into high gear the following year with the release of the 1982 movie starring Aileen Quinn. My dream had come true, Annie was a movie and I was finally going to get to see it! I had no idea how radically different the John Huston version was from the Broadway show, but I didn’t care. I knew that Annie was the same age as me, had a dog that looked a lot like mine and that this movie would have its own soundtrack that was definitely going on my birthday list! (I still have it, in fact!)
Over the next two years, I drove everyone crazy with my affection for all things Annie. Not only did I play the album constantly, the whole neighborhood was treated to daily performances of “Tomorrow” sung to my airedale/collie mix at the top of my lungs on the stage formerly known as my parent’s front porch. I had the posters, dolls and books. (Thank you, Troll Book Club!) When my mother refused to buy me any of the Annie attire that Sears added to their girls clothing line, my neighbor created a makeshift “red dress” that I wore on Halloween night complete with a orange afro wig and patent leather Mary Janes. I sang “Tomorrow” and “Maybe” for local vocal competitions, taking top honors for my efforts and causing people to ask my mother if she would consider letting me audition for the role. (Wanna take a guess as to what her answer was? I’ll give you a hint, it’s two letters and rhymes with “faux.”)
Just when I didn’t think anything could get any better when it came to being ensconced in my little Annie universe, when I was 11, the show came to a small community theater here in Indianapolis. What made this production even better was the fact that a girl I went to school with was cast as Molly. It was so exciting to have even a minor connection to the show and I was always asking about rehearsals and choreography in hopes of picking up a few tips. You can only imagine my surprise when my great aunt and uncle called my mother and asked if they could take me to SEE it as a Christmas present. Talk about my dreams coming true! Not only that, but I would get to see my friend!
To this day, whenever I am in that little playhouse for a show, I make a point of seeking out the Annie poster that still adorns the lobby. It was my first live musical and one that I will always treasure. Though I have grown beyond warbling “Tomorrow” when I see it on TV, I can’t help smiling at a 10-year-old Aileen Quinn and how badly I wanted to be like her. I suppose that is why, win lose or draw, I will be at the movies today watching the new remake. I suspect it will fall short of my expectations, the reviews do not look promising and I am chagrined at the way in which the songs have been replaced and changed, but for a couple of hours I will regress into my childhood (knowing that I have tickets for the REAL show in February) and celebrate the greatest role for a girl in musical theater. I truly hope that the young lady cast in the title role realizes how special that part is and understands that she now holds a special place in history as the eternal optimist who believes that tomorrow “is only a day away.”