For two weeks, Eleanor and Annabelle attended a local Annie Kids theater camp. I’d envisioned a small, revue-type of performance, but it turns out they’d actually be putting on a real production — fully staged and costumed, with each child auditioning for, and being assigned, a part. Ella boldly chose to audition for the role of Annie, whereas Annabelle, on the other hand, auditioned for Molly, one of the orphans – ’cause, truly, what she wanted most of all was to be an orphan.
And, really, who could blame her? Orphans are so chic. Despite the fact that, as a kid, all of the fictional orphans with whom I was familiar wore filthy little rag outfits and were fed unappetizing things like gruel, my friends and I totally envied them – and not just because they didn’t have parents to make them take baths or prevent them from consuming seventeen hotdogs in one sitting. Little Orphan Annie was tough and got to pal around with Sandy. Harry received mail by owl, had a rockin’ scar, and got to wear an invisibility cloak. Barefooted, broom-weilding Cosette eventually landed the only surviving (and handsome!) member of the short-lived revolution. Dorothy acid-tripped through Oz wearing an incredible pair of shoes. Batman had a double-identity and drove one of the coolest vehicles in existence. Tarzan subsisted on bananas and loincloths and eschewed Batmobiles in favor of vines.
And do we even have to discuss the amazingness that was Punky Brewster?
Little orphan envy. I totally get you, Annabelle.
The girls had been given an Annie Kids CD, which they were instructed to listen to “so many times, their parents would go crazy.” Ever the rule followers, they dutifully requested that we pop the CD into the car as we drove home from camp. Rather than actually sit back and enjoy each track, however, we only listened to the first 8-10 bars of each song before skipping to the next one, making it feel like we were frantically scanning an Annie-only radio channel. (It seems they’d only learned that much at rehearsal the first day — enough with which to audition — and they didn’t want to get ahead of themselves.) Thankfully, this fast-forward mania meant we were spared the recorded version of “Tomorrow”, which seemed to feature odd growling noises interspersed with Annie’s cherub-like melody. I chalked it up to a flaw in the CD and gratefully skipped to the first eight bars of the next song.
While they prepared for the auditions, Nick and I did everything we could to help the girls understand that it was highly unlikely that they’d be chosen for the roles they wanted. Partly, this was because there were at least 35 camp participants – but also, realistically, the directors just might decide that other children were better-suited to play Molly and Annie – and that was okay. Not okay as in, Oh well, who cares?, but okay because, sometimes, things just don’t work out as you planned… but life goes on anyway. You don’t get the part. Your team doesn’t always win. It sucks and it’s difficult (and, as an adult, that’s where Starbucks, Godiva, and whiskey come in handy), but this disappointment thing? A pretty consistent part of life.
Still, we gave the pep talk, reaffirming that whatever person they were assigned, it would surely be fun, and they’d ultimately have a great time.
We didn’t anticipate that one of our daughters might not be cast as a person at all.
The cast list was quite late in coming because the director had decided to add another song into the show to accommodate the large number of – in his words – talented singers who’d auditioned… and Ella was given one of the newly-added roles! A solo at that! True, it wasn’t the part of Annie, so she couldn’t sport a curly wig and dress in adorably ratty orphan duds, but it was a great role nonetheless, and I was very happy for her.
I then scanned the email for Annabelle’s name…. and discovered that she would not be playing the part of Molly. Nor an orphan. Nor a servant.
No, Annie had been assigned the role of… Sandy. The dog.
(At least it explained the odd growling during our speed-listen of “Tomorrow”.
Through all of our careful preparations, Nick and I had never considered that the part Annie got might not even be human.
Annie took the news as I’d expected: she cried. A lot. We tried to do all of the “right” things to ease her heartache (including a surprise Bruegger’s breakfast run), and to persuade her that this would still be a great experience. She could still learn and sing and dance and act and have a wonderful time. Plus, Sandy is important! Sandy steals scenes! Annabelle could be the cutest, best damn Sandy ever.
But still… The ball was in her court. Only she could decide if she’d run with it or throw it at someone.
(BTW, these moments – when your big-hearted, sensitive kiddo is cast as a dog instead of an orphan – these are so not in the parenting manual. REFUND, please.)
Annie managed to pull herself together, and the first week of rehearsals passed by with little further mention of playing Sandy. In fact, driving home after each rehearsal, both girls barely stopped talking about what they’d learned and how great the other cast members were. As a bonus, by now, we were listening to the full versions of all the songs (which was both better and worse than our first manic experience), so even I felt that I knew the music backward and forward. Three performances were scheduled for the following weekend, and – not wanting Annie and Ella to look out into the audience and find only unfamiliar faces staring back – I dutifully bought tickets to all three shows.
As the second week began and they started getting into costume, I noticed that Annie’s spirits seemed to lift. When it was announced that a fourth performance would be added because the first three had sold out so quickly, I asked if maybe I could skip that one, since I’d already be seeing the three original shows… but, no, oh no, the show was fantastic and my presence was definitely needed at every single performance.
Heck, I knew the songs already by heart. Might as well learn the staging and choreography, too.
At last, performance day arrived, and Ella and Annie raced into camp. (“It’s butterflies, right?” What, sweetie? “That’s what’s in my stomach. Butterflies, right?”) I’d planned to spend the hour between drop-off and the performance doing a little window shopping, perhaps grabbing a coffee… But when I noticed that other parents were already staking out spots 55 minutes in advance (damn stage moms), I rummaged through my purse for a stale mint and took a seat myself.
Turns out, the director really knew his stuff (and had some awesome assistants and apprentices), because, after only eight days of three-hour rehearsals, these kindergarten through third-graders managed to put on a mighty fine show.
A Warbucks servant and Sandy (looking rather like a sheep), ready to go…
Unlike the growly groans on the CD, Annabelle’s “ruffing” toward the end of “Tomorrow” was pretty freakin’ adorable.
Real dogs don’t smile. Very professional of her.
In addition to singing a solo, Ella also got to wear the brand-new, hand-me-down high heels that had arrived only a week or so ago. Mighty smug about that, she was.
Ella as Bert Healy, beginning “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”.
“It’s what you wear from ear to ear, and not from head to toe, that matters!”
After the first performance, as the girls ate their lunch, I asked what their favorite part of the show was. Ella told me it was the song “Little Girls”, but Annie replied, “DUH. All of the attention I’m getting!” Not exactly what I was going for, but she definitely took that Sandy ball and sprinted with it.
In fact, Annie not only embraced her role as Sandy but also as a member of the chorus (where she ditched her furry headpiece and actually got to sing and dance, human style). Ella got into character, to be sure, but Annie took things to a whole other level…
(Click to enlarge)
Why just sing the song when you can passionately feel it?
Really, all four performances were delightful, and even Nick had to agree that the two shows he saw with me were pretty freakin’ adorable. Nevertheless, after driving to and from the camp for two weeks and then spending six straight hours at the theater two days in a row, I was happy to leave the place behind for a while.
As the girls were packing up their costume boxes, I mentioned that I didn’t think they had everything – a water bottle, a few pairs of pants, and a couple of shirts seemed to be missing. They insisted that they’d brought them home earlier in the week, and – conceding that perhaps the nonstop Annie Kids CD marathon had, indeed, made me batty – I gave up my protests.
Upon arriving home, however, the missing items were nowhere in sight. Five days later, they still couldn’t be found…
And so, less than a week after leaving, we found ourselves back at the theater. Again.
Stage parents are crazy, yo.
“Smile, darn ya, smile!”