Many little girls dream of appearing in the musical "Annie," but few actually get to do it. Those who made it said it was the most glorious time of their lives.
Two "Annie" productions have thrived on Broadway, 20 years apart. "Annie" launched the careers of such stars as Alyssa Milano, Molly Ringwald and Sarah Jessica Parker. Now a new documentary reveals for the first time what the girls in the show experienced offstage.
Sarah Jessica Parker remembered what growing up as Annie was like. "There was a house of prostitution halfway down the block that was not in any way hidden. You know, we roller skated around there quite often and taunted, you know, some of the hookers."
Kathy Raicht, who was also in "Annie" on Broadway, recalled her offstage life at the time. "We went to Studio 54 constantly. I must have been there three times a week."
Retiring Too Early
When these girls' careers as "Annie" orphans ended, some of them said they felt as if they'd entered retirement.
"The younger ones are coming to take your place and you're 12, you know. It's not like you're getting downsized at 50 -- you're 12," said Nicole Francis, who played an orphan.
Others have experienced the hard-knock of life since leaving the show.
"I've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I think that that whole "Annie" experience for me was a manic episode," Ana Lovelis said.
"I had, you know, managers telling me that I gained too much weight, so I became anorexic," Robyn Finn-Moosey said.
One former Annie, Julie Stevens, has co-directed a new documentary called "Life After Tomorrow," which tackles a tough question: What's it like to have the most extraordinary experience of your life take place when you are only a small child?
"It's hard, because you spend a lot of time trying to recapture that feeling again, or recapture that experience. I have my own definition of what success is. And unfortunately, it happened very young." Stevens said.
Stevens' efforts to figure out her own post-"Annie" life led her to form a Web site linking "Annie" alumnae, and she later joined with filmmaker Gil Cates Jr. to make the documentary. Together they interviewed dozens of "Annie" actresses.
"The most consistent thing that these women had in common ... was their love for the show, regardless of how it affected their life, regardless of whether they were successful or whether they were hanging on by a thread," Cates said.
In the documentary the women share memories. "My career before ... my 15th birthday was probably my mother's because she was so completely involved in it," Senta Moses said.
So how many of these Annies had stage mothers?
"All of them. They had pressure. They had responsibility. They were getting paid," Cates said. "And then there were a lot of girls that were supporting their families that we interviewed. They made more money than their father."
Making Money Young
Allison Smith said that even as she was playing Annie on Broadway, her mother would rent her out to play Annie for special events and private parties.
"There are people who call up and say that their child was getting bar mitzvah'ed and they would pay $15,000 to have, to have real live Annie come to their child's bar mitzvah and sing one or two songs. And it felt a little bit like a freak show. There were gnarly episodes like that. Like, I really don't want to sing at the KFC in Suffolk County," Smith said.
Kristen Vigard was the very first Annie, winning raves during the show's out-of-town run. But before "Annie" hit Broadway, pint-size powerhouse Andrea McArdle was given the role instead. Kristen had to step aside.
"You know, they took me in the room and they went, 'Well, I'm sorry, you're not going to do the play,' and, of course, I cried and was so upset but there was a great sense of relief," Vigard said. Yet, Cates said, "I don't think Kristen, to this day, has ever gotten over the fact that she was asked to leave."
Twenty years later, ABC cameras captured the nationwide talent search for a new Annie and the triumph of 11-year-old Joanna Pacitte. But just months later, as she battled bronchitis in a hotel room, Joanna would get the boot -- just two cities away from her Broadway debut. At the time, Joanna said through her tears, "It's not going to be me coming down the stairs in my Annie dress and in the red wig. It's not going to be me, Annie, no more."
Now a glamorous adult, Joanna released her first album this past week. Looking back on her "Annie" experience, she said, "I kind of felt humiliated, and I knew the whole world knew about it."
"But, you know, it's been hard, it's been a struggle for her to prove to everybody that she didn't suck, and that's not why she got fired," Stevens said.
Toning "Annie" Down
Annie's most successful alumna, Sarah Jessica Parker, spoke to the filmmakers about how she tried to move past the "Annie" persona during some of her early auditions. "I did everything I could to not be cute, loud, turn my ankles in. You know, it was very important to me that I be something else," Parker explained. "I knew that people would want me to sing 'Tomorrow.' And I didn't want to do that for a while because I never thought I sang it that well to begin with."
Many of the women who appear in "Life After Tomorrow," for the most part, still crave the spotlight that the show once gave them. "The recognition, the people screaming for you -- I guess that was my 15 minutes of fame," Michele Graham said.
"Sometimes it's very hard to accept that that might be over," Rosanne Kavanagh added.
"I never could put my finger on the feeling that I felt as an adult. Like what happened? I was doing this stuff. I'm good at it. I'm still good at it. What the hell went wrong? What happened? You know, I miss it," Stefanie Kahn said.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm competing against a ghost of my former self. I feel like my career could not have peaked at 10 [years old]," Kristi Coombs said.
While their lives have moved on -- today there is a teacher and a flight attendant; a psychologist and a financial planner; a full-time mom and a full-on rocker; a TV actress and a vocalist who plays Marilyn Monroe in a "Legends" show -- the impact of "Annie" remains.
"I'd be lying if I said I don't want to be the lead in a Broadway musical again. I'd be fibbing out my butt if I said that wasn't something that's in the back of my mind some day. But maybe I'm a little crazy, 'cause I think it's going to happen some day," said Allison Smith.
As the documentary shows, some "Annie" orphans have enjoyed reconnecting with one another. And as they perform the old routines, it's obvious there's one thing these "Annie" alums will never forget ... the choreography.