Sunday, March 20, 2005

#28 - Help! I've Been Annied!

Among the countless things a person might enjoy on a Saturday, you might not think going to an elementary school production of "Annie" would be one of them. I certainly didn't think so.

For one thing, I burned out on "Annie" years ago. It came out at the height of my Cynical Period as I was between high school and going on a mission for the church. Suddenly, the entire country was inundated with "Annie" wannabes. At least half of them lived in my home town of Simi Valley. At least half of them appeared to be LDS.

Not long after my mission our stake put on a production of Broadway vignettes, one of which was (surprise!) "Annie." My parents and I split music director duties, and Mom drew "Annie" duty. Whew! A couple of years later, as I was entering my starter marriage, I was asked to assist Dad as an assistant musical director for a touring company version of "Annie." In a rare moment of lucidity, I bowed out before the production actually toured. They folded a year or so later after lawsuits killed the production. Seemed "Annie" was still a "hot" property even a year or so after the movie came out, and the copyright holders were none too pleased that anyone (even from Podunk, USA) would dare to compete with the "official" touring company.

By that time I had long since had my fill of precocious little girls with the lung capacity of a dirigible.

Skip ahead a couple of decades. My own precocious little girls (same lung capacity, but much more shy!) both enjoy "Annie." They have the 1982 version of the movie in their catalog. This is the version that Leonard Maltin called "claustrophobic," and I have never disagreed with him on that point. I can watch it, oh, once every two or three years without getting nauseous. You know that cutesy scene in "You've Got Mail" where the little girl sings (badly) "Tomorrow?" Hurl time.

So, given all that, you can imagine my trepidation at watching an elementary school production of this over-hyped musical, especially given that my own kids don't (and won't ever) attend public school. Not once, but twice. On the same day.

Woodyette the Elder has two little friends from church who do happen to attend this particular elementary school. They have become good friends over the past year, and the Woodyette's one regret is that she can't play with her friends during recess. They all go to a book club that meets at a local library every week. Mrs. Woody thought it would be a good show of friendship to have the Woodyettes go to the show and support their friends. It was decided that all of us would go to the afternoon show to see one friend (the show had two casts to accomodate all the kids) and then the older Woodyette would return that evening with one parent or another to see the other friend.

From the moment the lights went down and the canned music began, I found myself being strangely entranced by the entire experience.

If I were to look at the whole thing from a strictly critical point of view, it would have been a complete disaster. In the first show, key characters mumbled lines, cues were dropped, "Annie" didn't quite have the top notes required for the role, and the staging was fairly wooden. Not surprising given the fact that they had to get 50 or more kids on stage during the production numbers and give them something to do other than perform personal hygiene for parents and family (and a few hundred others) to see.

Still, once the house had been called, the actor in me - the one who has performed in more than a handful of community theater productions over the years - got into the show. Generally speaking, when I witness a bad production of anything, I feel embarrassed for the performers. My worst nightmare is to be in a production that falls flat for any reason. In this case, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the fact that the kids were up there having the time of their young lives. It didn't matter to me that most of them looked like deer in the headlights at one point or another. When it came to crunch time, they went through their moves with all the precision of the Keystone Cops without a rehearsal.

I loved it. Twice, even.

So, the next time an elementary school decides to do a production of some hackneyed, full-of-itself musical, I'll probably buy a ticket.

Maybe even two.

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