playing the part

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When I was a little girl–and perhaps it’s because I’m a redhead–all I wanted to be when I grew up was Annie. I used to sing songs from the musical on my front lawn, at 7am–belted "Maybe" as if my meal depended on it. I didn’t want to grow up to be an actress, or a singer. I wanted to be Annie, the way today I imagine young girls want to be Hannah Montana. It’s not that I wanted to be an orphan, inventing names for stray dogs, I just felt so connected to her yearning. I remember that want: the want to be wanted. And I loved the theme of hope, long before I knew anything about "themes." The hope of being saved, the hope of something bigger than you looking out for you, the idea of believing in something so much that no one can convince you otherwise.

I recently received an email from a woman who attended Wheatley, my high school. She was one year my senior–an incredibly talented actor with a mesmerizing voice, and her mother knew it. From what I remember, when she wasn’t cast as the lead, her mother appeared the next day to complain. I heard this from my mother, who was far from "gossipy." The way I heard it: "You don’t know how good you have it. My daughter does commercials in the city. She has more talent than anyone here. You’re making a huge mistake." And then, I heard the alleged response from the faculty: "We have to give other people a chance." So they cast a short dumpy girl who couldn’t really sing as the lead. I always thought the girl who’d been skipped over was totally screwed for being talented, as if it worked against her.

"I just wanted to let you know that I was on vacation this week and read "Moose". I absolutely loved it ! It made Aruba even better! You truly have a gift! You totally captured Wheatley!  I don’t know a woman today that does not obsess about her weight. We all do. And that’s why your book speaks to us all. Having two little girls I too hope that they can grow up without those constant thoughts haunting them daily. But you will see as yours gets bigger and bigger that all they really need is love and fun in their lives. I find that all kids are pretty happy if they are being engaged in life. My five and a half year old is just starting to be aware of her body and how she looks. Anyway, reading your book also reminded me of something. In school we did "Annie" and you had a great solo in that Herbert Hoover song (And a beautiful powerful voice, that totally blew me away!), and then you dropped out. I got your solo by default and I always wondered what happened? Why did you quit? I hope I am not asking a weird question, but you seem pretty open about your life… Okay I’ll stop rambling…Thanks for a great read…I am going to start your first book this week. (I can’t even believe who your wasband was! That’s just crazy!!) Congratulations on all you sucesses and your children and your happiness. Happy New Year!"

What a great email to receive… especially from someone I admired. Why did I drop out? Because I was cast as Ms. Hannigan’s understudy. Otherwise, my only solo was as "Sophie" with the line, "Today I’m stealing coal for fires. Who knew I could steal?" in a song bashing Herbert Hoover. And how much does it suck to be an understudy? You basically want and pray for someone to fall ill, to get dysentery, despite not knowing what the eff dysentery* is. It was fun, though, to sing a song with lyrics like: "I’ll call you Olli, my hot tamale," paired with, "Why don’t you pet me?" and "You want a smootchie, my little poochie?" Also, what great writing, to give her a scheming brother with the nickname "Rooster." It’s so authentic-seeming that way.

Today, right now as I type this actually, Abigail is sitting on a red beanbag, totally mesmerized, watching Annie. I can offer her a big "smootch," even sing all the words to every song, even "Dumb Dog," but she remains unmoved, on her knees, staring at the film. She does NOT have an attention span for anything on television the way she does for this particular musical. And I like to think it’s genetic. That she gets it from me, the way I inherited my father’s love for The Moody Blues. I’m betting that one day there will be psychology studies in music preference, and we’ll learn that part of our tastes are genetic. She must get this from me, the love of musicals with children, with yearning, with hope, and with, let’s face it, Carol Burnett. She’s as amazing as dysentery. I love Carol Burnett!

*I’ve since looked up dysentery, and I can tell you, if a girl is going to wish it upon another girl in a Mean Girls kinda way, she picked the right affliction, for sure. "Infection of the intestines resulting in diarrhea with the presence of blood and mucus in the feces." Awesome.

3 YEARS AGO: Don’t Cry Out Loud



  1. I loved "Annie" so much when I was little, and still do. "Maybe" can still bring a tear to my eyes when sung by a very talented little actress. Although, I was such a theater geek that to this day I cannot make it from the subway to my office, walking along Waverly Avenue, without mumbling "I met a boy called Frank Mills…". LAME. Still, theater was the first place I ever felt at home and I hope some day my kids will enjoy it as much as I did.

  2. Too funny! I loved performing when I was a child (still do, I'm really quite the ham) and I was cast in "Annie" in summer camp but then got the chicken pox (stupid sisters) and had to let my friend go on as my understudy. Sigh. I seriously sat and sang "Maybe" out my window for a week while getting over the pox.

    In 8th grade, my middle school did Annie and I was cast as Sophie. It broke my heart, but I did it, and I had fun. This post brought me back tho! :)

  3. I wanted to be Annie too. I had the original broadway cast recording — on vinyl. And knew all the words to all the songs. My grandparents took me to see it. On the 4th of July. Don't remember what year, but it was staring Alison Smith (of Kate & Allie fame)..sometimes I still have fantasies of being Annie.

  4. You crack me up. God, I love your writing. You totally take me back. You really are such a delight. I'm praying for you and your family. When does your next book come out? I can't take it anymore! I need more.

  5. i used to get so sad during the dumb dog song because i felt so bad for sandy. i thought annie was being too mean. sensitivity (check), comprehension (not so much).

    FROM SK: ha! I owe you a phone call! I love and miss you, chica.

  6. Hahaha. Too funny. We should apparently start a "I was only cast as Sophie in Annie" recovery club. I was also the understudy for Ms. Hannigan and ooooh was I bitter.

  7. Desperately wanted to be Annie, and I curled up on every windowsill that would hold me singing Maybe.

  8. Oh how I wanted to be Annie. We had it on vinyl and I played it until it was so scratched and worn. I practiced "Maybe" all the time. I remember the day when I figured out I was now finally too old to play Annie and how sad I was. A fun post!

  9. Wanting to be Annie. ME TOO. I even had the Annie doll. I'm pretty sure my Mom still has nightmares set to the soundtrack of the movie because I loved it THAT MUCH (though I did not see the remake with Kathy Bates as I consider it blasphemy).

  10. I LOVED Annie, but I always wanted to be Mrs. Hannigan. I just loved how she was so evil and retched. I still love that show/movie so much that to this day, I have the entire soundtrack on my iPod. It just makes me happy. :)

  11. great blog.

    I used to love Annie too. I knew all the songs as well. I even got to play Annie in a play because of it. The lead got sick and last minute they needed someone to fill in. I was the only one who knew all the songs already. :)

    I have a blog too. I try to help people find ways to make and save money. check it out when you get a chance.


  12. Hey! we really should have a “cast as sophie and understudy for ms. hannigan” website. I’m actually in the play annie right now and am cast as sophie. (and i’m the understudy for miss hannigan.) it really stinks but i’m learning how to live with it! HAH!

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