My parents took me to see Annie on Broadway when I was 5 years old, and it blew my mind. I wanted to become Annie and live inside the show forever.
I played the cast album nonstop (on vinyl! It was 1981.) and memorized every lyric. I had some questions, like who is Herbert Hoover? But I got the gist. Being an orphan sounded pretty great, especially if you ended up getting adopted by a billionaire who lived on Fifth Avenue. I dreamed of dressing in orphan’s rags and belting out “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” onstage eight times a week. I wondered if an olive-complexioned Italian girl could pull off red hair.
Soon after seeing the show, I went with my family to a community event in our school’s auditorium. Unprompted, and without telling anyone what I was doing, I walked onto the stage and sang “Tomorrow,” a capella, in its entirety. I have no idea what possessed me to do this; I was the kind of child who tended to burst into tears if anyone addressed me directly.
Unfortunately, a career onstage was not in the cards for me, as I cannot act or sing, and I can only dance a little. I’m what they call a quarter-threat. But 30-plus years later, my affection for musical theater in general, and Annie in particular, has not dimmed. So perhaps you can imagine my excitement when I heard that a national touring production was coming to a theater just twenty minutes from our home.
It was too perfect: Theo is exactly the age I was when I first saw the show, and he seems to have a natural love for music and dancing. He sings constantly—plenty of Hamilton and Moana, natch, but a lot of original stuff, too. As he goes about his day, he accompanies himself with an extemporized soundtrack. This weekend, for example, he made his way across a (very shallow and narrow) stream during a walk in the woods and spent the rest of the walk singing: “I’m so brave / crossed the big river.”
This would be Theo’s first experience with a full-length, live show, and I knew there was a good chance that he would not be able to sit through the whole thing. Even as I told myself to be prepared for anything, I secretly imagined that he would fall in love, as I had, and that he would treasure the experience his whole life, and would probably channel it as he sat down to write his first Tony-winning Broadway show, for which he would later tearfully thank me in his acceptance speech. But it could be that my obsession with Lin-Manuel Miranda had once again interfered with reality. Because of course we did not make it past intermission.
Unsurprisingly, the audience was overwhelmingly composed of girls, many whom were wearing Annie’s signature red dress. I’m not sure if Theo noticed that he was in the minority, but if he did, he didn’t seem to mind. I thought of my own Annie dress, which my grandmother had given to me for my seventh birthday. For just a second, I wished I had a little girl to dress up and maybe take to a tea house after the show. But mostly I felt proud to be there with my little boy, who was wearing his light-up stormtrooper sneakers.
In the theater, when the lights dimmed, Theo leaned over and stage-whispered, “It’s starting!” When the overture began, I immediately started crying. What can I say—something about hearing the familiar music played live for the first time in more than three decades, plus the feeling of Theo’s warm little hand in mine, was just really powerful in a circle-of-life kind of way. (I know, that’s a different show.)
The magic was fleeting, as magic always is. All was well during “Maybe,” Annie’s ballad about longing for her parents to come back for her (more tears) and “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” (Theo wanted to know which one was Pepper, as we had discussed her on the ride over). But soon he had to pee, and then he wanted a snack, and then, about three numbers from the end of act 1, he leaned over once again and announced, loudly, that he was falling asleep.
And so, when the lights came up at intermission, we left. As we pushed our way through the throngs in the lobby, Theo was already campaigning to stop at the toy store we’d spotted in town. We thereby ended our theater date with the purchase of a Spider-Man Lego set.
Later that evening, as Spider-Man and Ghost Rider teamed up to battle Hobgoblin, I thanked Theo for coming with me to the show. And he said, “Thank you for taking me, Mama.”
Maybe he will remember the day, or maybe he won’t. I guess the important thing is that I will. I’ve added it to my collection of Annie memories. And maybe when he’s older we can give Hamilton a try—I hear they just released a block of tickets for 2024.
I will leave you with the lyrics to one of Theo’s original songs, which we are planning to record and share with the media after he becomes a Tony-winning songwriter/lyricist:
Falafel is awful.
Look out, Lin-Manuel!