I took my daughter to see Annie yesterday. Yes, of course, she’d seen it before. Twice actually. Both of her prior experiences were in local community theater settings. And both were solid productions with strong casts. But yesterday was different. Because yesterday’s production was presented in the world-renowned Saenger Theater on Canal Street in downtown New Orleans.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Saenger Theater first opened its doors in 1927 and charged its patrons a mere sixty-five cents to see a live show or silent movie. (My great grandmother used to play the organ there for those silent movies, by the way.) Anyone who has ever been inside the theater can attest that price was a steal even then. Because the building itself is, simply put, one of the most beautiful and majestic places this girl has ever seen.
Following a renovation in the late 70s, the theater reopened in 1980. That’s the first time I saw it. My parents had season tickets, two of them, on the second row, orchestra right. I still have no idea how they managed to get such excellent seats. And I never questioned it. I just remember the first time my mother had a conflict with one of the performance dates. She’s a teacher and probably had a meeting or something that night. Lucky for me. Because I got to go in her place. The show was Dancin‘. (Bet you thought I was going to say Annie.) It was a musical salute to dance, choreographed by Bob Fosse. I remember being mesmerized by it even though I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate all of its unique artistic nuances.
Then it happened.
My (obviously overworked!) mother had yet another conflict with one of the performance dates. The show? Yes, this time it was Annie. So I went with my dad again. To sit on the second row. Of the gorgeous theater. To see ANNIE. I had no idea what was in store for me. Neither did my father. I still remember his first words to my mother as soon as we got home that night,
“We’re going to have to get a third ticket,”
he said, half smiling and probably half wondering what it was going to cost him.
Sure enough, he managed to get a third ticket mid-season. It was a single seat just a row behind the original two. Needless to say, my dad sat in that single seat for the remainder of the years we held those tickets. And I sat with my mother on the second row. There I saw amazing performances by Sandy Duncan in Peter Pan, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Yul Brynner in The King and I and Richard Burton in Camelot … to name only a small few.
But it all started with Annie. That show will always be particularly important to me because it opened my eyes to what would become one of the greatest loves of my life. Since that night, I’ve seen more shows than I could begin to count, in cities all over the country and even overseas. And, apparently, my “disease” is hereditary. Or maybe just contagious. Because my daughter is just as hooked as her self-proclaimed theater geek of a mother.
So maybe that’s why yesterday …. sitting in that same theater … watching that same show … I was overcome with emotion when the title character came down the stairs in her classic red dress. Everyone around me was smiling and clapping and cheering, but I was crying … nay, weeping … at the déjà vu of it all.
Thank you, New Orleans Saenger Theater, for serving as the backdrop of one my greatest and most influential childhood memories. And my daughter’s, too.
Vivien in her 3rd grade talent show. Yes, she sang Tomorrow. And yes, that was my dress. My grandmother made it for me when I was her age.