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ANNIE GET YOUR GEAR AND TAKE A HIKE

 

picture - Life After TomorrowDVD Review

by John Topping

published March 4, 2008

 

Life After Tomorrow

released by Arts Alliance America

running time 75 minutes

 

Of all of the reactions I thought I might have watching Life After Tomorrow, the PBS documentary by Julie Stevens and Gil Cates, Jr. that was just released on DVD, I would not have guessed that one of them would be profound sadness.  And yet, thinking back, that is the overriding impression for me.

 

Life After Tomorrow is about the girls who played Annie and the other orphans in the hit musical Annie of thirty-something years ago.  This includes the pre-Broadway cast, the original Broadway cast, the replacement Broadway casts, the touring company casts and the Broadway revival cast.  Although the film version of Annie gets mentioned more than once, the documentary filmmakers, like the audience and critics when the film was released, largely reject it.  But really, that’s not so much because the movie totally sucked as it is because the intensity of the experiences are so different; instead of a three-month shoot, most of the stage casts were together every day for a year or longer.

 

In any film or stage production, close bonds are made only to necessarily end when the production closes or the cast changes and one moves on to the next such similar experience.  But the dynamics of a show like Annie are somewhat unusual.  Annie was not just another show with parts for pre-teen girls – it was THE show that every pre-teen girl with stage aspirations wanted to be a part of.  Getting cast was a dream come true, especially for the replacement and touring casts; most if not all of those girls had seen the production before being in it.  But it was the journey through it and particularly the coming out on the other side that posed the biggest challenges.

 

The most famous former cast member is Sarah Jessica Parker, who played an orphan before actually playing the role of Annie in a Broadway replacement cast.  (The original Broadway Annie, Andrea McArdle, did not participate in the documentary.)  Parker and others recount the era as a time when absurd amounts of freedom were given to these children living in a grown-up world; they taunted hookers down the street from the theater and went three or four times a week to Studio 54 during its cocaine-driven heyday.  They had practically no education, whether it was because the tutors were unqualified or because the girls could, at their whim and without repercussions, walk away and watch ­Gilligan’s Island instead. 

 

It was a particularly grueling ride for the touring companies.  Their families were torn apart as one parent accompanied a daughter on the road while the other stayed home.  But for all the casts, unquestionably the most difficult part of the experience was when their tenure ended.  It was emotional enough when the tour ended or the Broadway production closed, but it was soul-crushingly traumatic when someone was replaced because she was getting too old.  Washed up and over the hill at age 12; booted out when the stagehands began to become too interested in them; the slightest bit of breast development and your career is over; how dare they have the audacity to grow up.  For most of them, life became instantaneously gloomy and empty.  No more being the center of attention, doing interviews, making TV appearances, signing autographs.  So just move on to another show, right?  Well … at any given time, how many shows in town are really in need of 13 and 14 year old girls?   

 

The sadness borders on outright depression when we see some of the cast members getting together thirty years later and running through the song and dance numbers that have been permanently seared into their physical and mental memories.  I don’t know if it’s the sight of grown women collectively going through routines meant for pre-adolescent girls, or if it’s the pathos of trying to recapture what is gone forever but which never reached closure, or both, or something else.  This segment might well have been a one-time-only undertaking arranged exclusively for the documentary; but the impression that’s given, purposely or not, is that they get together on a semi-regular basis.  It was undoubtedly therapeutic for them; but therapy is a private process.  Seeing it exposed felt like a creepy violation.

 

If you were expecting a standard puff piece, Life After Tomorrow turns out instead to be a cautionary film about the pitfalls of children surviving show business.  It should be seen by every kid who wants the actor’s life and every parent considering putting their child there.  And if you’re a fan of the musical Annie, there’s that, too.

 

johntopping @ stageandcinema.com

 

 

 
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