Thirty-five little girls from the ages of six to sixteen auditioned for Sumner Community Theater's production of Annie, the musical, in mid-June. The church basement was filled with nervous excitement as proud parents and budding drama queens danced, read, and sang for the coveted part of Annie. There were many exceptionally gifted dancers, singers, and actresses, and every single one of the girls were adorable in their own way.
As musical director, I was in charge of vocal auditions. I worked with two groups, running them through the signature song, “Tomorrow,” preparing each of them for their solo. Some girls belted it out with great confidence; some with great trepidation; and two girls broke down in tears and couldn't even sing a note. You could've cut the tension with a knife!
After two long Sunday afternoons, we narrowed our choices down to a few girls. One young girl stood out among the rest. She was a natural-born actress, reading the lines as though she'd played the part many times before. She was a strong dancer. But when it came to singing, she herself admitted she could be “pitchy.” At least she knows she's off pitch, I thought to myself. I took a few minutes with her and had her sing one line 7 times. By the eighth time, she had it. I knew I'd be able to coach her into being a capable singer, and I knew her innate acting ability would do the rest. After conferring with the choreographer and the director, we decided to cast Sarah Smith as “Annie.”
Being the lead in a musical can be tricky, especially when you're in grade school. Snide comments were made by the other little girls playing orphans, clearly jealous of Sarah. Adult members of the cast heard her sour notes and rolled their eyes or looked worried. And instead of having a carefree summer of bike rides and going to the pool, Sarah had hours and hours of work to do. Memorizing lines, singing lessons with me, dancing lessons with Sabrina Schmitt, and staying late at rehearsals when the other orphans got to go home.
Sarah handled it all with grace and humor. She remained focused and disciplined, taking direction like a trooper. She had her lines memorized weeks before anyone else. She learned how to tap dance, and suffered through grueling rehearsals in the broiling auditorium with no air conditioning without a complaint. She got dragged around the stage by the giant German Shepherd who played Sandy that suffered from separation anxiety. And she learned how to sing!
Now, the day before opening night, I am in awe of her performance. In my thirty-plus years of teaching and mentoring, I have witnessed many gifted young people. Sarah is clearly the cream of the crop, a rising superstar. A flaxen blonde with a flawless face and long legs that seem to get longer every time I see her, you can see the beautiful woman she will become. She's intelligent, she's funny, she's fearless, and she's humble. She has the glow of a beloved child raised in a loving home with 6 siblings.
Sarah's mom, Deb, is also in Annie. She's playing the part of Lily, the ditzy blonde who tries to con Daddy Warbucks into thinking she's Annie's mother so she can get the $50,000 reward. As I watch Deb light up the stage with her hilariously dynamic performance, one fact is crystal clear.
Like mother, like daughter.