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by Julie Stevens (no login)

THE DVD SHELF: "Sweeney Todd," "Life After Tomorrow," Disney's "Enchanted" & "101 Dalmatians"

By Steven Suskin
23 Mar 2008

The sun will come out tomorrow, or so the song says. But what of the spotlight? And on that tomorrow, will there be a place in which you can sing that the sun will come out once more? These questions are examined, rather grippingly, by Julie Stevens and Gil Cates, Jr. in Life After Tomorrow [Arts Alliance America]. What happened to all those girls who appeared in the original and spinoff productions of Annie, anyway? Annie had six pals, otherwise known as The Orphans. Given the number of companies of Annie that trod the boards, and the growth spurts that biologically limited the girls' term of usability, there were an awful lot of child actors that went in and out of what was arguably the second-biggest hit of its decade (after A Chorus Line). And when I refer to an awful lot, I am not speaking of the mothers — although I suppose I could.

There you are, starring on Broadway or in major cities across the nation at the age of 11. (The orphans weren't starring but they were often treated as minor celebrities, especially in those cities where Annie came in like a whirlwind for a sold-out month or so.) Any actor can tell you of the lows that set in when you are not working; any star can tell you of the lows when you are no longer starring. But most actors, after closing, retain those traits that earned them the spotlight. The child actor, who is hired because of their size and their looks and the sound of their pre-teen voice, not only loses their job; they lose those abilities that got them cast in the first place. Those abilities that made them into celebrities, at least in the cases of the Girls Who Played Annie. Once they have hung up their red wig, how many people know or care who they were? Or are? And how do you think it feels when you go back to public school, floating anonymously in a sea of hundreds of kids without a chorus or a dresser or even an assistant stage manager to tell you when it's time to enter and smile?

Filmmaker Julie Stevens was one of those orphans. Musing on the question of what comes after tomorrow, and what doesn't come after tomorrow, she had the idea of interviewing a group of the girls to see just how common their experiences were. The results are fascinating, especially — I suppose — to people who are in or around the business. Only a small number of the girls are present, relatively speaking. The biggest catch would have been the original, Tony Award-winning Annie, Andrea McArdle; she presumably declined to participate. In her place, though, is Kristen Vigard, who originated the role the summer before Broadway when the show was first performed at the Goodspeed Opera House in 1976. (She was very good, too, both as Annie and singing "Frank Mills" as a 14-year-old Crissy in the 1977 Broadway revival of Hair). More to the point, Stevens landed an extended interview with the only one of the Annies who went on to more fame after Annie than during — Sarah Jessica Parker, who offers some of the most insightful comments of the group. Also prominent amongst the participants are Allison Smith, another leader of the Broadway clan; Danielle Brisebois, who will remain ever memorable as the cutest and littlest orphan to anyone who saw the show early on; music director Peter Howard; stage manager Peter Lawrence; and composer Charles Strouse.

What do the girls talk about? A wide range of subjects, many of which are fascinating. Some of the girls-turned-women seem normal, others seem to be a little strange; one gets the impression that Stevens purposely kept out some of the sadder stories. But many of the girls share similar tales, with broken families — especially among the touring girls — in the forefront (with a residue of guilt). But see for yourself. This film is not about Annie, not at all. It's about life upon the wicked stage, circa 1977-1982, and "Life After Tomorrow" paints quite a picture thereof.

Posted on Mar 22, 2008, 10:51 PM
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