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Annie, Annie, Annie! Look what you’ve done for us!

When I was nine years old, I was cast as Duffy in Annie with the Diablo Light Opera Company.  It was in the midst of the early 1980’s fervor for that wildly successful new musical. At the time, every little girl clamored to be on stage wearing that curly red wig, hugging that shaggy blond dog and belting their brains out. But ironically, I was not one of them.
I wanted to be Eliza in My Fair Lady (Julie Andrews), or Marian the Librarian in The Music Man (Barbara Cook), or Adelaide in Guys and Dolls (Vivian Blaine). Thanks to my mother, I grew up listening to records of all the old school musical theater with the original casts. I knew every word and every note to such classics as Anything Goes, Music Man, Guys and Dolls, and most especially My Fair Lady. Annie was way too new to be noticed in our household as anything more than a passing fad.
I auditioned on a whim because a friend wanted to be Annie more than life itself, and somehow she convinced me to audition with her. I have no idea how I came to this wild decision since I had never done anything remotely like this in my very young life. But I learned a song from the show (little did I know you should never do this!) and auditioned in an auditorium with 500 other hopeful little girls and their anxious parents.
I thought I would die from fright. To this day I don’t know how I got through it- I don’t remember the actual singing, just my heart pounding so loudly that I thought everyone must be able to hear it! When I finished and found my mother, I burst into tears from fear and relief. Fast forward a few weeks and two callbacks later and I was cast in one of the 12 coveted orphan roles (double cast for child labor laws).  And the friend, you ask? Well, she did not even get a first call back. So much for that friendship…

For the next year I was happily immersed in the wonderful world of Musical Theater and the land of Annie. We did two runs, 64 performances- one entire year of my life was devoted to Annie Annie Annie. And it was fantastic. I was entranced by the process, the theater, the actors, the director, the stage hands, the show, everything. Mostly the other orphans stayed in the greenroom when they weren’t on stage, but not me. I stayed out of the way in the wings, watching every minute of almost every show. I knew every note, every lyric. I was devastated when it ended because at the time it never occurred to me that this joy could continue. I thought of it as a one-time thing. Happily I discovered I was wrong. Two more shows with the same company followed.

But then something fateful happened- I hit puberty and an operatic voice started emerging from my throat. Everyone around me who was musically and theatrically inclined persuaded me that classical music was my future. And who was I to argue? When Musical Theater wasn’t playing on the record player, it was Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert, courtesy of my father. It was beautiful music that seemed interesting and certainly challenging, so I dove in. First there were three grueling, emotionally galvanizing years of choral boot camp, otherwise known as the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Through tears and great struggle, I became an excellent musician and a second soprano who could (barely) hold her part in the middle of 6+ part harmony. And from there it was a natural progression to classical voice lessons complete with art songs and arias. And opera suited my temperament and intellectual curiosity. But Musical Theater was always home. I found my comedic talents doing Winnie from Washington in No, No Nannette and my serious side with Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof. But opera beckoned at the same time that Musical Theater was moving in the pop/rock direction, something I knew instinctively was not “me”. So two musical roads seemed to diverge in the wood, and I,  (for the next twenty years) I took the classical/operatic route.

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