STORY WRITTEN BY RITA CHARLESTON
For Digital First Media
“Annie,” one of the world’s best loved musicals, heads back to the Academy of Music stage March 17-22. This time around, the story of the orphaned Annie’s adventures, from her escape from the orphanage headed by the wicked Miss Hannigan to a new life with Daddy Warbucks, features nine-year-old Issie Swickle in the title role.
“Believe it or not, this is my first big role,” said Issie, who beat out 400 other hopefuls to snag the role. “When I walked in to audition, they said just be yourself, and so that’s what I did. A little while later I got a call back, and then they asked me if I wanted to play Annie. Of course I said yes, and now I’ve been on the road for about six months with the show and having a lot of fun.”
The original “Annie” opened in 1977, and went on to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, seven Drama Desk Awards , including Best Musical, the Grammy for Best Cast Show Album, and seven Tony Awards.
The score for “Annie” includes such memorable tunes as “Maybe,” “It’s A Hard Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” and the eternal anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow.”
Accompanied by her mother, Dana Swickle, and the rest of the crew, including six other “orphans” in the show, Issie admits she’s having the time of her life. “We don’t go to a regular school but we have a teacher who travels with us. She is very smart and the best teacher ever. And I don’t get an allowance from my parents, but I do get a paycheck. That’s fun too.”
Of course, the world of touring is not all fun and games. “For example,” says Issie, “we’re often sitting on a bus for as much as 12 hours going from city to city. And in the beginning, it was very scary for me because I’ve never been in a Broadway show before so it was tough for me at first.”
On the plus side, she adds, being from Florida and traveling the U.S, gives her the chance to see cities and places she’s never seen before, and is anxious to get to Philadelphia for the first time. “I’m looking forward to seeing the Rocky Statue when I get there,” she said.
Her mother, however, is just looking forward to her daughter simply enjoying what she’s doing and remaining humble and grounded. “We’re all very proud of Issie and I just want her to be the best Annie she can be,” says Dana Swickle. “When I see her on stage I think I’m more nervous than she is. So many times I still can’t believe she’s up there because I know so many things can go wrong. It all seems so surreal.”
She adds that she’s a firm believer in “whatever happens, happens. So my hope for Issie is just for her to be happy with whatever path she chooses to go in her life, whether she wishes to continue in show business or become a doctor or a veterinarian. I want her to know my husband and I will always be here to help her achieve her goals.”
And Dana Swickle is not afraid that her daughter is missing out on anything in her childhood. Of course, everything in life is not perfect, but we’re traveling with six other girls, all around the same age. They’ve bonded and are able to do things together. I know Issie misses her friends back home, but I also know that for right now she’d rather be Annie. And the minute she says she’d rather be home, then home we go!”
IF YOU GO: Tickets for Annie range from $20 to $115.50 and are available by calling (215) 731-3333 or online at kimmelcenter.org/broadway.