As the Smith sisters sing farewell to ‘Annie,’ they’re happy for the good knocks in life
The Smith household in northwest Fresno is about as far away from Austria as you can get, but as I take a seat in the comfy living room, I can’t help but think of “The Sound of Music.” There are five children in the Smith family — from eldest to youngest, Michael, Tim, Anna, Joy and Charity — and they’ve all been stellar performers in Good Company Players productions over the years. If we could get Wendy (Mom) and Patrick (Dad) in the act, we’d have the Fresno version of the Von Trapp Family Singers.
But today we’re here to talk about “Annie,” which ends its successful run on Sunday, March 18, at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. The three younger sisters all have significant roles in the show. Joy plays Annie herself. (In my review, I write that she “has that certain spark on stage that suggests big things to come.”) Anna, 15, is July, the streetwise older orphan, while the youngest, Charity, 8, plays Molly, the spunky scene-stealer. Even the Smith family dog, Harry, gets in on the act in the role of Sandy.
It’s been quite a hectic and fulfilling few months for all of the Smiths, but particularly for 12-year-old Joy, who has relished every red-headed moment of the run. I sat down with the three girls and their mother for a closing-weekend debriefing.
Donald: First off, I just have to ask: Why do you think there’s so musical talent in your family? Is it something in the genes?
Wendy: It’s a God thing. It’s a gift. Because Patrick and I don’t have much singing experience. He was in a choir in high school, and that’s all. And I wasn’t in anything.
Donald: Joy, as we head into the final weekend of the run, I have to ask: Has this been a tough experience for you in terms of your voice?
Joy: No, not really. (laughs)
Donald: You didn’t miss a performance. Did you ever go on when you weren’t feeling well?
Joy: I did. I got sick one night, and during the second half of the show, I started to lose my voice. And then the next day, I had been taking a lot of medicine, so it was better. Then I sprayed something in the back of my throat right before I went on — that singing spray —
Donald: Singing spray?
Joy: (laughs) — and I choked on that, so it sounded really bad when I went on stage. It sounded like I was going to have a cough attack. But after that it was pretty good.
Donald: Do you think anyone even noticed?
Wendy: Her mother did.
Donald: But you felt like you hit the notes.
Joy: I did.
Donald: It sounds like instead of getting tired, you get energized from this.
Joy: I do. Usually at the beginning of the show it’s been a long day, and I feel a little tired, but while the show goes on, it gets me excited. By the time I get home, I’m pretty crazy.
Donald: Does it take you a while after the show to be able to go to sleep?
Joy: Yes. (laughs)
Donald: What’s your wind-down time? What time do you get to bed on a performance night?
Joy: About midnight.
Donald: Having done the show this many times, is there any part that gets boring, or old?
Anna: For me it’s the ending scene when we come in and talk to Annie in the mansion, and then we go over and are looking at our presents, and it feels like we are looking at our presents for the longest time. We’re looking at our wrapped boxes, and saying, “oh my gosh!”
Donald: So you’re not even opening the presents — you’re looking at the wrapped boxes. I can see where it would be hard to be enthusiastic. What about you, Charity? Is there any point you get antsy at?
Charity: It’s a little bit after the present scene where Miss Hannigan takes us up to the Christmas Tree. We’re just standing there while they’re talking and waiting and waiting and waiting …
Donald: So there’s a lot of waiting.
Donald: And how about you, Joy?
Joy: I don’t know why, but during the number “NYC,” I always yawn. I don’t know why because it’s so exciting, too, and I’m sitting there listening to Eric (Estep, who plays Daddy Warbucks), and he sounds so amazing, but I can’t help myself. I yawn.
Donald: I’m going to start yawning right now because it’s one of those things that once you mention it, then you yawn. So do you kind of swallow your yawn, then?
Joy: No, my eyes get really big and my mouth goes like this (she approximates a happy fish).
Donald: So we know that big, big smile and big eyes actually might be a yawn.
Joy: That’s right.
Donald: What has it been like for you being Annie? Do people recognize you? Does anyone ask for your autograph?
Joy: Yes, when I’m greeting (at the door of the theater after a performance). Mostly little girls.
Wendy: Tell us what they say to you.
Joy: Some of them say they want to come live with me, which is really cute. And some of them say “I love your locket.”
Donald: So you’re still wearing the locket you have in the show?
Joy: I am.
Wendy: I ‘ve heard some of them after giving her a hug and taken a picture run away and say, “I’ve met the real Annie!”
Charity: Some of the little girls draw pictures for Joy.
Donald: So it’s like you have a little fan club.
Joy: I do. On the mirror in the dressing room, I have all the pictures that they have drawn for me.
Donald: But it’s not like people will see you in the grocery store and come up to you.
Joy: Yes, some do.
Anna: Some people notice her hair and comment on it, and she’ll tell them,”It’s dyed for ‘Annie.’ “
Donald: I’m glad you brought up the hair, because I was a little too shy to ask about it. But now I can. So your hair is usually …
Donald: When did you dye it?
Joy: About a month before the run started.
Donald: Do you have to do it more than one time during the run?
Joy: I do. I redye it every week.
Donald: And is that a hassle?
Joy: I do it myself here, so it’s not too big of a hassle. It’s a conditioner that you put in and leave for a couple of minutes, and then you wash it out. It can also be a bad thing because if you’re not looking, you can get some on your face. I actually spilled some on our white cabinet.
Wendy: And on the grout in the shower.
Donald: After the run is finished, are you going back to being blond?
Joy: I’m not too sure.
Wendy: It’s funny because she has had so many compliments on her hair. One of the nurses at her doctor’s office said, “Your hair is so beautiful. Don’t ever dye it.”
Donald: Anna, you have been the understudy for Joy. Most people would assume that an understudy would have this secret hope that the star gets sick. But you’re also her big sister. How does that work?
Anna: It would be fun to go on, but I would never want her to get sick, just because it would be awful for her. She probably wouldn’t not do the show just if she got sick, so it would have to be something really serious, and that wouldn’t be good.
Joy: Like a broken leg or something.
Donald: Joy, I was telling your mom that in big productions of the show, like in Broadway, they have more that one Annie, usually two or three. Were you surprised that GCP wanted you to do all four or five performances a week?
Joy: I was. I was surprised “happy,” not surprised “nervous.” Well, maybe II was a little nervous that I would lose my voice.
Donald: That’s really a compliment to you that they went ahead and did the casting that way. You actually play Annie more times than the girls on Broadway did it in a week — though they have a much longer run. That’s very impressive. You can tell people from now on that you played Annie the entire run. Now that it’s over, how are you feeling?
Joy: I’m going to be very sad. I’m going to cry for a long time. I’m really happy that I was in Charity’s first mainstage show, and to be with Anna, and my friends. It’s been a really great experience, and I have loved every minute of it.
Donald: Well, it’s been a huge part of your life.
Joy: Yes, it has been. But it’s been a big dream come true, because this is my dream role.
Donald: How about you, Charity?
Charity: I’m going to be sad, because it’s my first show. It was really fun being with my sister.
Donald: And you, Anna?
Anna: Sad for sure. It was a fun show. We had a lot of great people in the cast. And I’m going to be sad for Joy, because I know how much she loves this.
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