This morning we're celebrating "Annie" with our Nancy Giles:
When she was just 13 years old, Andrea McArdle had a precocious understanding of the solar system, and psychology:
The sun'll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
There'll be sun
Just thinkin' about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow
'Til there's none.
Four decades later, she still sticks out her chin and grins…
The sun'll come out tomorrow
So ya gotta hang on 'til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya', tomorrow
You're always a day away
Forty years ago, McArdle became a star in the Broadway musical, "Annie." The show won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for nearly six years.
It changed a lot of lives.
"A lot of moms and dads probably curse us because their little girls are running around singing 'Tomorrow,' making them insane!" laughed Shelley Bruce.
It especially changed the lives of the young actresses who portrayed the red-headed orphan: Kristen Vigard, Andrea McArdle, Shelley Bruce, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Smith and Alyson Kirk. They were all chosen to play Annie by Martin Charnin, who had the idea to turn the 1920s comic strip into a musical, and then directed it.
He also wrote the lyrics (Charles Strouse composed the music), and they won the Tony for Best Original Score.
During the past four decades, he's directed 20 companies of "Annie," and he says he's auditioned 3,500 girls around the world.
"The only Annies who really ever work on the ones who really take it seriously," Charnin said, "and deal with her not as a cartoon, but as a real kid in search of her parents, with street smarts, and optimism as the thing that drives her."
The musical had such an impact on castmembers that the Annies recently staged their 40th reunion, with a private party, and a public question-and-answer session:
"It is a perfect show -- like, it really is simply a perfect show," said Parker.
The musical was less-then-perfect when it started out at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. Kristen Vigard had the title role: "And Annie had to be naughty!" she said.
But Vigard was too sweet, and Annie had to be tough. After a few weeks, she lost the part.
"I wanted to be a doctor; this is something I did for fun when I was a kid," Vigard said.
"You were really OK?" Giles asked.
"I cried a lot … I was just humiliated, but I was kind of excited to go home!"
So another cast member, McArdle, who could portray a scrappier Annie, was chosen for the part.
"We all knew everybody's lines; kids always do. You know they do!" she said. "And so I was told on a Sunday night that I was going to be taking over the role Tuesday."
And she took the role to New York City, which immediately took to her. "Michael Jackson came to my 14th birthday party and I think he brought, like, Tito and Germaine. And I was like: Wow, that's so cool!" McArdle said.
It was also cool -- really cool! -- that McArdle was nominated for a Tony Award.
Shelley Bruce was McArdle's understudy; she became Broadway's second Annie.
"Nobody knew who you were, and then all of a sudden, everybody knew who you were," she said. "Back then, we were known as triple threats: sing, dance, act. But not everybody did all three. So now, it's required."
After Sarah Jessica Parker saw the Broadway show, her stepfather was brutally honest: "He said to me, 'You know, you're not Annie material at all.' He was trying to prepare me that this fantasy should just be this audience experience."
But she auditioned anyway, and became the third Annie.
Allison Smith was in the audience in 1979: "I saw Sarah, and -- very differently than Sarah's experience – I'm like, I am going to be that girl! I am going to be Annie!"
At the age of nine, Smith became the youngest -- and the longest-running -- Annie. Eight shows a week!
"It's the most incredible training ground as an actor you could ever have," she said. "Because you're playing a role for so long, it really allows you to explore."
Alyson Kirk grew up in the same town as Allison Smith and went to the same school.
"I got so obsessed and I wanted to see the show, and I saw it with Shelley," Kirk recalled. "I bought the album and my friends and I would record ourselves singing like Andrea. And then Allison went on Broadway and I was like: I wanna be Annie! And I cried. And I then was, eventually!"
Kirk was crowned the fifth Annie.
Most of the Annies went on to careers in TV, film and theater. Shelley Bruce left the show in 1979.
Then, in 1981, she got leukemia.
And for six weeks, McArdle visited Bruce in the hospital after she performed her nightclub act.
"She made her own visiting hours," Bruce said. "She would literally come at one o'clock in the morning, and we would take my IV pole, get sesame chicken out of the machine in the cafeteria. We would sit and hang out."
Giles asked, "Was it a hard transition for you to go from being an actress and what not, and then being sick?"
"Acting prepares you for so much at a young age," she said, "especially when you have a role like Annie, that have to really be responsible. It was an amazing time, and I was so lucky to have so much support."
While the original musical made theater history, the sun continues to come up for new generations of Annies.
Kenleigh Merritt played Annie last month at Greenwich High School in Connecticut.
"I love the songs, I love the story," Merritt said. "To be able to play a role that so many people know and so many people love, it's very fun. I love playing Annie!"
Just before opening night, Giles asked McArdle if she had any advice for Merritt, which she recorded:
"What I would tell Kenleigh is to, number one, trust your instinct. Your instinct is golden. And when you have an opportunity to play a character like this, multi-faceted, at such a young age, it is life-altering. And be there in every moment so you can enjoy it. And it'll be unforgettable!"
Merritt was over the moon: "Oh my gosh. Oh, my gosh!!! Wow! Wo!! Andrea McArdle just said my name!"
And so the torch is passed again.
I love ya', tomorrow
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