When I was a very young child, I saw Annie. It was the first show I had ever seen. And I was younger than you would expect an audience member to be. Apparently, even though I was a hyper child, I was well-behaved, thus beginning my lifelong commitment to theater etiquette.
When my mother was a young child, she went to Brooklyn's Kings Theatre, with its over 3000 seats, with her grandmother to watch movies. She remembers the substance of those visits -- occurring over many years and into when she was older -- more than I remember my trip to Annie. She remembers what they saw on certain occasions and what the theater looked like. They are happy memories.
The theater was closed before I was born, only opening to the public again earlier this year, after a costly restoration. So is it any surprise I felt the need to see Annie there?
First, I should say, for a variety of reasons, I do not normally attend non-Equity tour productions. I've never been able to fully understand how other unions (particularly the The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers) allow their people to work on them. The entire thing is beyond me.
That said, this chance was too good to miss. I had to go. It's a solid production, and the ladies are good. Lynn Andrews, playing Miss Hannigan, is doing what my friend Billy referred to as a "a copy of a copy of a copy of Dorothy Loudon," and every moment of her performance is indeed predictable, but we still both found her better than Katie Finneran was in the most recent Broadway revival. The tour is directed by Martin Charnin and he's doing a lot of his original staging. Some numbers were pared down (I won't even go there with the costumes) -- with "N.Y.C." seeming particularly lackluster -- but much of his work continues to be completely charming. Most importantly, the production has attracted its target audience, families.
Annie is a great musical to take a child to. There was one ill-behaved child in the back left of the theater, screaming throughout, but most seem entranced by it. Kids love to see kids onstage -- and Annie is dripping with little girls. Seeing children embrace the theater is one of the great joys of attending a family-friendly show. A trip to the Kings was both a trip to visit my family's past and also a trip to observe future regular theatergoers.
I am a little bit worried about the habits the adults are teaching the children. I've never seen so many people show up late to the theater as I did in Brooklyn. There was so much popcorn being thrown about that I was reminded of the discount movie theater that used to be at Worldwide Plaza. Oh, and then, the checking of the phones. I suppose the etiquette of coming generations will just be worse? Great. I'll be one of those people "Shhh"ing everyone. I see my future now.
However I will applaud the adults for taking the children to the theater, which is not a cheap activity for a family, even at a theater in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. I was so happy that the 4-year-old next to me sat quietly in her red dress and shiny shoes, commenting only twice: once on a joke she didn't get and once when Annie changed into her curly hair wig. (I didn't hear her comment on the latter, though perhaps she too was wondering if it was made of yarn.) During intermission, families were posing for pictures in the lavish nooks of the grand old theater. The child next to me was only upset during the standing ovation that she could not see, and so she asked her mother to lift her up. It was all heartwarming.
For you parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. out there -- please bring a child to the theater. The commitment to live performance needs to be nurtured early, whether it is with a trip to the local high school's show, a puppet show, or something more grand. If you're in New York City, consider heading over to the gorgeous Kings Theatre for Annie before it closes this Sunday. If you're not in the area, Annie plays all over the world, all the time. Currently there are three school productions coming up in the next half year within 100 miles of New York City; there is also probably a production near wherever you are. You can check the MTI site for details. If you think the child in question, won't be able to sit for 2 ½ hours, there is also an Annie Jr. production, which is shorter. MTI has shorter productions of many shows in its catalog. There is a lot of opportunity out there to expose children to the theater. Escort them out if they are screaming, please, but take them.