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It's a Hard Knock Life, but Maybe Annie Can Tell Us About Tomorrow

I've been reading The Chelsea Whistle by Michelle Tea. Tea writes about her working class upbringing in Massachusetts and there's a whole chapter devoted to her love for the musical Annie. If I knew Michelle back then, no doubt we would've been friends that exchanged friendship pins and Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Because I loved Annie as well.

Annie was the first musical I saw. I was six and it was a national tour. My parents took me and I wore white socks with lace and black Buster Browns. Right away, I loved the music, loved the costumes, and loved everything about it. Dad bought me an Annie doll in the lobby and I slept with her for years until she became old and raggedy. As soon as I find another Annie doll on Ebay, she's mine.

In case you lived on another planet the past thirty years, let me give you the story of Annie: based on the comic strip of the same name, Annie lives in the Morningside orphanage with her friends. They are all scared of Miss Hannigan, the unhappy mean lady who runs the place. Let's just say this: Miss Hannigan would be on meds today to control her mood swings. Anyway, Annie isn't an orphan, no sir. See, she has a locket, and someday her parents are going to come with the other piece of the locket and they will come get her. Yes sir, they sure will! Until then, there's always tomorrow, and they would like her, honest they would!

Then Grace Farrell comes to the orphanage, saying that Oliver Warbucks, the richest man in the world, is looking for an orphan to spend the holidays with him. Grace spots Annie hiding in a closet, and decides that Annie is the orphan. If you guessed that Warbucks falls in love with Annie and wants to adopt her, boy, you are good!

I loved Annie. For Christmas, my grandparents gave me the Broadway album and I sang the songs repeatedly. Maybe far away, or maybe far behind.... I performed concerts in my living room, convinced that I would be a star. One time I brought my album to school. Sister Peggy Ann looked at it for a minute, wondering what this was. I asked her if it was okay to play it during naptime when she played records for us while we rested our heads on our desks. She thought why not? Pretty soon "It's a Hard Knock Life" was playing and I started to sing along. Everyone was looking at me as if I had a stroke. So much for show business.

I saw Annie every time it came to the City. Dad would take me, and I would wear a red jumper Grandma made me with a white heart sewn on it. I think Dad loved the musical too because it took place in 1933-the year he was born.

One time he took Sericea and me to see Annie with Martha Raye playing Miss Hannigan. God that was fun. Martha Raye was such a trooper, making sure she made everyone laugh. There was some awkward spots when Martha Raye forgot her lines, but she adlibbed and then one time she just said: "And now I can't remember what I was going to say." This made everyone laugh so hard. Now I wonder if she was scared to death.

Eventually Annie closed on Broadway. However, they were making a movie of Annie. A movie! Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan! Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks! Mom and I went to see it at night when it wasn't a bargain matinee, it was so special. Although I loved some Albert Finney and Carol Burnett, I didn't like it that so much was changed. First off, they set it in summer. Summer! Why would they do that? Annie is such a Christmas story, a story of hope in the oddest places. Still I liked it and I had the Annie lunchbox, the locket Annie had, Annie paper dolls, and that Halloween I was Annie. I had a red wig and everything.

I missed the last national tour of Annie. It was ten years ago, I think. I missed it because there was a controversy with the latest Broadway revival of the show when they told the little girl who played Annie that hey, you are not needed, clean out your dressing room kid. I thought it was mean; it was so Lucy taking the football away from Charlie Brown.

I did see the Disney version of Annie when it was on ABC years ago. Truth be told, I like the Disney version better than the big screen version because it's closer to the play. In addition, some of my favorite Broadway people were in it (Audra McDonald as Grace, Alan Cumming as Rooster, Kristen Chenowith as Lily) Also it was set during Christmas! That's the Annie we all know and love!

I wish they brought Annie back. I think we need that message it's all going to turn out. I want to take my niece and nephew to see it. I want them to know it's all going to turn out for Annie, and I want them leaving the theater singing "Tomorrow." Yes, tomorrow, that song that so many girls sing at talent shows. Still I love the message of the song. Yesterday was pretty bad. Today not so great. However, there's the promise of tomorrow that it's all going to be okay. We need that message now. Come on back Annie, our nation needs your spunk and your red dress. We've got the missing piece of the locket. You can come home now.

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Bet your bottom dollar....

I was a musical theater nerd as a kid. This musical was by far my favorite.

Of course I also have horrible memories of theater camp singing out-of-tune versions of Tomorrow. Me, I was a Hard Knock Life, kinda kid.

Thomas Dotson, redroom.com

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My dear Mr. Dotson, I hope you taped this performance.

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Somewhere out there....

Somewhere there are tapes of me in various performances from Junior high through College. My parents and family never understood my love of theater, so they didn't tape or photograph anything. I'm sure various friends and teachers have things though.

I also lost an entire album of stuff I kept in a flood, so I really have nothing to remember those years by.

Thomas Dotson, redroom.com

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Oh, that's awful...

I lost one of the first stories I ever wrote once like that.  That was painful.

Now I wish my family had a camcorder when I made my debut as Miss Thorton in Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis. It was an amazing performance, I tell ya!