The day after I returned home from the Mayhem, my father said to me, when I'd first gotten out of bed, "There's a surprise for you and your Mama downstairs." "What is it?" I asked him. "Just go and see," he replied. Though I asked "What is it?" a few more times, in my morning bleariness, he wouldn't tell me, and so I stumbled down to see what was waiting for me. I've let you know, over the past year, that my family and I enjoy pulling good surprises on one another. This week, my father had decided that my mother and I should follow up on the vestigial six-year-old's squeals I let out during a television commercial for the Indianapolis performances of Annie, the musical that's celebrating its thirtieth anniversary by touring the country. We'd seen this commercial a couple of days before I left for Philadelphia. While I was away, my parents saw the commercial again, and my father said, "You should go to see that next week." He managed to get my mother to offer Tuesday's opening night show as the best date, and then he managed to get us front-row seats.
To understand why it was such an excitement for me first to see the television commercial and then actually to go see the musical live, you have to know that Annie occupied a substantial part of my waking life a quarter-century ago. My parents took me to Shea's Buffalo Theatre to see the show live in 1981, and my mother remembers my having sat perched on my father's lap, rapt from the first note. "You were so excited when there was more after intermission," she said to me last night, as we left the theater in Indianapolis.
But my love affair with Annie really got underway, as it did (I suspect) for many girls of my generation, with the release of the 1982 movie starring Aileen Quinn and Albert Finny (and Carol Burnett and Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters and Anne Reinking--it really was a great cast). Knickerbocker Toys released several levels of licensed Annie dolls in conjunction with the film's release. One could get the six-inch dress-up model or the sixteen-inch rag doll (with Annie's dog Sandy in the pocket). I had both. One could also get Annie wigs, Annie dresses, the soundtrack for the film (on vinyl, baby), and books about the history of the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie." I had all of these things except for the wig, which my mother refused me (for good reason). Also, my mother refused to buy me a cheap polyester Annie dress. Instead, she hunted out some wonderful finewale corduroy and made me an Annie dress with a gored skirt that flared when I spun. I loved that dress so much that on school picture day in 1982, I went to school even though I was nauseous, just to be sure that I'd have my picture taken in my favorite dress. Looking at my smiley, curly-haired self in that picture--my starting-to-fall-out teeth on their way to becoming the mess an orthodontist would labor to straighten out six years later, my hair in one of its periodic long phases--you'd have no idea that I was sent home, viciously ill, later in the day.
And I can't even talk about the bubble gum cards. The coveted one, of course, was the one of the scene interpolated for the movie: Aileen Quinn's Annie crying for her life, hanging from a drawbridge--such a fine contrast of greeny oxidized metal and of Annie's iconic party dress and curly red hair. I was fascinated by the fact that the figure climbing the railroad ties on that bridge (by the searchlight of a circling helicopter) was not just a stunt double but also a man.
My friends and I knew all there was to know about Annie, from differences between musical and film to subtleties of lyrics.
I realized just how little has changed when my mother and I walked into Clowes Hall at Butler University last night, and the sight of a merchandise table had me squealing. "I had that shirt!" I said to my mother, looking at a baseball jersey. The clothing! In addition to the dress my mother made, I had shirts and overalls and a nightgown, all featuring Annie. And a baseball jersey just like this one.
My love of Annie was a full-blown obsession. And the year I spent in love with the show and all its accoutrements left its marks: play me a couple bars of music from any of the numbers, and I could probably sing you all the lyrics--a fact that made seeing it at 30 peculiar, to say the least. Part of me was hoping that my mouth wasn't twitching too much, since I wanted to sing along (as we did, loudly, when Grease was rereleased for its twentieth anniversary in 1998). But part of me was thinking about this show as a work of art for the first time.
In the show, Annie's optimism and defiance play out against a backdrop of adults misusing or being abused by Depression-era power structures. "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover" is a particularly interesting song to listen to at this historical moment (as at least one other blogger has suggested); Annie turns up under the Brooklyn Bridge with her new stray dog in tow, and a crowd of Hooverville dwellers apostrophize Hoover to sketch their downfalls swiftly. "I used to winter in the tropics," the men sing; "I used to summer by the shore," reply the women. "I used to throw away the paper," sings a lone man; "He don't anymore!" everyone chimes in, as he puts the newspaper under his vest. Annie gets arrested by the cops who bust up the Hooverville at the end of this number (which concludes with the Hooverville residents' inviting Hoover and his wife down for stew). Her fate seems to parallel that of the people who have grown desperate by December 1933.
But the musical braids together Annie's adoption by the billionaire Warbucks and FDR's adoption of the New Deal (which becomes the product of an impromptu, and initially coercive, singalong in the Oval Office, when Warbucks and Annie pay a visit and Annie starts to sing the reprise of "Tomorrow"). It's a tempting narrative line: "When I'm stuck with a day / that's grey and lonely, / I just stick out my chin, and grin, and say..." You know where the song goes next, I expect. "The sun'll come out tomorrow, / so you gotta hang on till tomorrow / come what may..." The show goes back and forth between tomorrow's being "always a day away" or "only a day away." Both the president and Warbucks have their charitable, paternal impulses catalyzed by the presence of this scrappy red-headed girl. At the end of the show, Warbucks and Annie sing that they're "tying the knot / they never can sever." The movie goes further to neutralize this pairing, by bringing out the romance budding between Warbucks and his private secretary Grace, but by the musical's end, that relationship is just barely resolving out of Grace's obvious affection for this man. The predominant narrative is one of a kind of parthenogenetic child--an Athena to Warbucks's reluctant Zeus--who almost singlehandedly (or single-voicedly) kicks off the New Deal.
And yet the whole time my intellect was fighting the show, my six-year-old heart was delighted, and delighted, and delighted still more. What strange dissonance. And what tenacity of memory: my brain has held so many more of those words and notes than I'd have had any idea.
A quick explanation for the top image of tonight's post: on our way to Clowes, my mother and I stopped at my favorite Indianapolis eatery, Shapiro's Delicatessen. Shapiro's is on the way to the airport from my parents' house, which meant that on a few occasions, when I was either coming or going from grad school, we headed there for dinner. (We ate there lots of other times, as well, but it was particularly nice to get on a plane to Ithaca with a belly full of pastrami and fruit flan.) I haven't been there in an age--long enough to have forgotten that it's hot pastrami I always get, not hot corned beef. I caught this error in time to have beautiful, truly beautiful hot pastrami on fresh rye bread. With a pickle. And macaroni and cheese (of which my mother received a comically large helping--a helping that might have violated the cardinal rule of eating, "Never eat anything bigger than your head," which means that it's a good thing she didn't eat the whole dinner). If you are ever in Indianapolis or even just passing through (especially if you're on I-70) and looking for a place to eat, let me recommend Shapiro's to you. Leave room for dessert. If you're not a vegetarian, try a meaty sandwich.
While we ate, a large family sat down to my right, on the other side of a support pillar, and set up its dinner. I paid them no mind until the wife and mother of the group said, to the man across the table from her (who was hidden from my view by the support pillar), "Now, wait a minute, Mr. Half-a-chicken!" It wasn't the best line I heard all night, but it was close. I still don't know what she was going to tell him.
sources for tonight's images: 1) me; 2) and 3) eBay.