Hard Knock Lives
Documentary captures "Annie's" backstage story
R.J. Donovan Theater Editor
Today, every little girl wants to be Hannah Montana. Thirty years ago, they all wanted to be Annie.
The award-winning documentary Life After Tomorrow reunites more than three dozen women who once starred on Broadway as Annie (and/or other orphans) to share their memories of the life-changing experience.
Among those appearing in the film are Sarah Jessica Parker, Alyssa Milano and Molly Ringwald along with creators Martin Charnin (book and lyrics), Charles Strouse (music) and adult cast members, including Harve Presnell. (Surprisingly, the original Annie, Andrea McArdle, declined to participate.)
Now on DVD, the project is the brainchild of actress and filmmaker Julie Stevens (in partnership with Gil Cates, Jr.), who appeared as an orphan in both the New York production and on tour. Several years ago, she put together a website to find out what happened to some of the girls from the show.
The website caught on, and Stevens subsequently organized several cast reunions. She said she "heard some amazing stories from the girls. Over time, I realized that, as important as it was for us to share our stories with each other, they were also experiences worth sharing with people outside of the circle."
Despite her positive memories, she said, "I hope that the film can be a cautionary tale for parents who are putting their kids into show business without understanding how it will impact their lives."
With seven little girls in each cast, thousands of kids got their start in show business over Annie's five years and more than 2300 performances on Broadway.
For some, appearing in the show became a stepping stone to a successful adult acting career. For others, the 15 minutes of fame was plenty. And for still others, the dream job eventually swirled into what's been called the "Post-Annie Syndrome" of trauma and loneliness.
Stevens said several of the participants were hesitant to sit and relive the ups and downs of performing in the show. "Many of the women are no longer in show business and were extremely nervous," she said.
"Nervous in front of a camera and crew and also nervous to be discussing such personal issues. A few women turned me down completely - one woman told me she couldn't talk about it until her mother passed away."
Maintaining an optimistic attitude, she said, "For those women who were not ready to talk about it or choose not to be a part of the film, I hope it is a pleasant reminder of all of the wonderful memories we all share."
Stevens' personal journey included being a part of the final Broadway company of Annie, appearing in the closing night performance on January 2, 1983. She remembers it "was both exciting and extremely sad. I was excited to be up there on the last night, and for the performance to be preserved on film at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts."
At the same time, she admits, "It was sad because I knew that part of my childhood was over. I was about to turn 13 and I understood that there would be fewer jobs for a girl caught between childhood and adulthood. I knew that Annie was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was painful to know that it was over. I had also wanted very much to play the lead role of Annie and knew that the time to do that had come and gone."
Now living in Los Angeles, Stevens continues to perform on stage, on film and in television. In addition to teaching, her voice has been heard in several animated projects including The Princess And The Pauper and Care Bears Live!
At the end of the day, are these ladies hanging on to the past, or just celebrating a very special bond? If may be a bit of both, depending on the individual. But if you ever fantasized about climbing up on stage and singing your heart out as Annie, here's a chance to see what your life might have been like.
Life After Tomorrow, which originally aired on Showtime, received Best Documentary and Best Director honors at the Phoenix Film Festival. The DVD, from Arts Alliance America, is in stores now.
Annie will be at the Citi Performing Arts Center March 25-30. Tickets are $28-$72. Citicenter.org
Posted on Mar 5, 2008, 2:01 PM from IP address 126.96.36.199