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'Annie' At The Palace Theater: Love Notes

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I saw a revival of "Annie" -- not as a show that was happening in the moment, but as a kind of montage. You see, my 38-year-old daughter who was sitting next to me had been at the first production at the Alvin Theater (now the Neil Simon Theater) when she was about 6. Her beloved paternal grandparents, Walter and Relly, gone nearly a decade, had taken her. After having escaped Hitler's Europe, they loved all things American and especially the feeling of safety they had in their new country.

Suddenly, the fire alarm went off and they were rushed to the theater's fire escape. Despite the fallen arches my mother-in-law had earned working on the assembly line of a hosiery factory after she came here, she wore high heels. I could just imagine her out there, clinging to the fire escape's railing, her ankles wobbling, terrified for her granddaughter, and my father-in-law's calm voice telling her with the rolling r's of his German accent, "Now, Relly, it will be all right.' And it was. In less than 10 minutes, they were shepherded back into the theater and the show went on. They bought my daughter the soundtrack and she memorized all the lyrics. I could see that she still knew them by the way she lip-syched through the numbers.

Not only was I attending "Annie" with my daughter and her husband, but their three children as well. One of my granddaughters is not much older than my daughter had been when she first saw the show. The booster seats didn't quite boost enough. As my granddaughter sat in my daughter's lap, her profile a miniature of her mother's, it was like a flashback and flash forward all at once.

My daughter and son-in-law had prepared their children for the performance by showing them a DVD of the 1982 movie version of "Annie" so that they wouldn't be asking, "What's an orphan?" or "Or why is Roosevelt in a wheelchair?" during the show. That reminded me of having taken my daughter to see that film when she was 13. So although I had missed the original show, as I sat in The Palace Theater, I was also transported to the Great Neck Cinema with her as she was back then, smelling of popcorn and patchouli, and me thinking sadly how little time it was, really, before she'd be leaving for college. The memory of that time, my wanting to hold on, played tricks on me. I kept replacing Katie Finneran (the evil and drunken Miss Hannigan) with Carol Burnett. At curtain, I was almost expecting Katie Finneran to tug at her ear the way Burnett used to, a signal to her grandmother that meant, "Hello, I love you."

And when Annie sang "Tomorrow," the stage looked smeary from my tears because I was brought back to the time when my darling, curly-haired niece saw the original "Annie" and couldn't stop belting out the song for whoever would listen and even those who wouldn't. She was so inspired by that show that she went on to study singing, dancing and drama in camps, public schools and anywhere she could get her tap shoes in the door. Now she's a senior at a performing arts college. When she was the star of her first professional performance at the Zach Theater in Austin, Texas, a second cousin remarked, "Isn't that the kid who asked Kathy and me if we would like to hear her sing "Tomorrow"?

Yes, that's the kid all right.

I don't know whether I love the show or I just love the role it has played in my family life. But "Annie" still fills me with tremulousness for the past and the sunny feeling that no matter how dark things may seem, there's hope for a happy New Year.

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