Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Annie: Thirty Years Later

Annie: Thirty Years Later

Thirty years ago this month, my view of the world and all its possibilities was forever and inalterably changed.

Nearly two years before I ever set foot in New York City and six before I would see my first show in a Broadway theatre, I was truly fortunate to be among thirty Homestead High School juniors and seniors from Mequon-Thiensville (Wisconsin) to travel with history teacher Brook Brown and his wife Liz for an extraordinary action packed ten-day journey, first to London and then to Paris.

Prior to this experience, my family had traveled only infrequently. While we took a month-long drive to California back in the summer of 1976, most of our other road trips were limited to visiting relatives in northern Wisconsin or in Minnesota.

So when I boarded my TWA flight from Chicago to London, my excitement was surely palpable. Everything from being on a wide-bodied plane to traveling without my parents made everything fresh and new. I was so thrilled that I couldn't even sleep on that long plane ride across the Atlantic. Once there, I soaked up London like a sponge.

Part of the experience of traveling to London, I was to learn, would include two evenings of live theatre. Prior to this trip, I could probably count the number of times I had seen stage performances on both hands, and with one exception, they were all high school productions (Bye Bye Birdie, Don't Drink The Water, Fiddler On The Roof, Gypsy, Harvey, Oklahoma!, Romeo And Juliet, South Pacific and You Can't Take It With You). Mind you, I really enjoyed seeing each show, especially those under the expert direction of Homestead's musical director Sonia Simonsen, but they only hinted at the overall experience that professional theatre would afford.

In London, for our first night of theatre, we were provided an option of seeing one of two West End mountings of two Broadway hits: Annie or A Chorus Line. Since I was already familiar with the former's cast album -- Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse's score was a favorite of our family's during our long six hour drives to Minnesota -- I opted to see Annie.

Little did I know upon entering London's Victoria Palace Theatre (current home to Billy Elliot - The Musical) how swept away I could become by just one show. From my front row center mezzanine seat, I witnessed nothing short of pure magic.

I was absolutely riveted by the legendary Stratford Johns as Daddy Warbucks and the glorious Sheila Hancock as Miss Hannigan -- she simply blew me away with a sublime performance I can still vividly recall even today.

I marveled at Charnin's ingenious direction, Peter Gennaro's breathtaking choreography and Theoni V. Aldredge's dazzling costume design.

But it was David Mitchell's sliding set designs that completely floored me as they transported Annie's array of characters across the stage without them even having to take a step.

To say it transported me as well would be a major understatement. I was wowed. Big time.

As noted above, we also had a second night at the theatre.

Our entire group went to see a production of Agatha Christie's Murder At The Vicarage at the West End's Fortune Theatre (current home to long-running hit The Woman In Black). With a run of 1758 performances, this show was no slouch, either. But this production was much more old school English theatre than the captivating American import I had seen the night before.

Going to London, in and of itself, had already been a life-changing cultural experience in which I truly began to see the world in a different way, and the subsequent visit to Paris only enhanced this wonderful new perspective on life itself.

But the exhilaration I felt in seeing Annie was a life-changer of a different order. With a strange new tingling sensation down my spine, I was replete with goosebumps from head to toe. This live performance would forever change my expectations of entertainment. I now saw just how brilliant stagecraft could be. Entertainment became art. And I was forever hooked on live theatre.

Coming full circle, I'm about to revisit Annie for my third time.

This coming weekend, I'm traveling to Providence to visit my beloved friend Esther (Gratuitous Violins). One of the things I love about Esther is how genuinely interested she is in sharing experiences. She knew that my visit would coincide nearly thirty years to the day since I first enjoyed Annie and all it had to offer.

In addition to celebrating her birthday, I have a feeling we'll also be toasting my life-changing experience as we look forward to yet another thirty years of seeing theatrical magic unfold before our eyes. So here's to two vitally important females in my life - Annie and Esther.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 29 April, 2009, Blogger kari said...

This is lovely, Steve -- what an amazing memory. Have fun this weekend! It'll be a special treat for you both.

At 29 April, 2009, Blogger Esther said...

Awww, thank-you, Steve for giving me the best birthday present ever - a visit from a dear friend. I'm excited about seeing you and Annie! And I loved reading about your trip and how you got hooked on theatre.

At 29 April, 2009, Blogger Kevin Daly said...

Great post, Steve. Memories are enchanting, no? Gotta love that madcap Sheila Hancock. Her Mrs. Lovett was a music hall riot.

I never thought I'd ever be so grateful for "Annie" in my life!

At 30 April, 2009, Blogger Dale said...

Lovely post and it captures the crackle of excitement you felt and still do. Have fun with Esther!


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