Judge Katie Herrell is never fully dressed without a smile.
Adored by Millions…Orphaned by Broadway
Life After Tomorrow is a simple documentary. A girl, a chair, and the camera. But the story of the dismissed and forgotten stars of the traveling "Annie" musical is a powerful one.
Facts of the Case
From the late 1970s to early 1980s many pre-teen girls lived the lives of make-believe orphans slinging mops and songs in the Broadway musical "Annie." While getting the part was a dream come true, the rigors and realities of the job were much harder to handle for these girls and their families. The "Annie National Tour" took kids away from siblings, parents, and classrooms causing divorce, strife, and speed aging. According to Life After Tomorrow the hardest part of being an "Annie" orphan was being kicked to the curb upon entering puberty. The harsh reality of being replaced by someone younger and fresher left lasting scars for the women in this film.
The focus of filmmakers and co-directors Julie Stevens (a one-time "Annie" orphan herself) and Gil Cates Jr., in Life After Tomorrow never wavers. The film chronicles the highs and lows of life as an "Annie" star, culminating with the resulting devastation that followed a young girl's inevitable firing.
Aging orphan after aging orphan is interviewed in the same manner on a spartan set or in their home. The narrator is unseen and the women themselves are the central focus of every frame. Stills from the play are used sporadically, but the main visual element of Life After Tomorrow is the women.
For many documentaries this spartan approach would produce a bland outcome, but in Life After Tomorrow the imagery is extremely effective and rife with symbolic meaning. All of the women recall vividly the days when they were the "star," the center of attention—whether they were the center of their family, their hometown, or the show.
While some of the women visibly pine for that attention again others are disgusted by what it did to themselves or their families and are grateful to be away from it. In either case the women are very introspective about their time as a star and seem comfortable regaling others with their thoughts. The one-on-one element of this film allows the women to unselfconsciously relive those star days without competing with the other women for screen time.
From another perspective, the women were all a bit shell-shocked when dismissed from "Annie" and forced to become "normal" again. The setting of a modest living room or a folding back chair is illustrative of the non-glossy settings these women were forced to inhabit again after "Annie." Many of the women still look uncomfortable in these surroundings, as if they can't believe the limo isn't waiting outside to take them to Studio 54. But all of the women are aware how ridiculous it is to lust after the glory-filled days of their youth. They realize it, yet many are still tormented by a desire to achieve that kind of success again.
Even Sarah Jessica Parker—the most commercially successful actor of the crew interviewed—remembers vividly and waxes nostalgic about her time in "Annie." In Life After Tomorrow she is equal with all the other women in that she was part of the cultural phenomenon that was "Annie" and it changed her life. The pared-down set, causal interview-style, and non-costumed appearance of all the women effectively neutralizes any adult success of the actors.
In fact, until I read the DVD packaging and learned that several of the women interviewed went on to work in big-time roles (MSNBC anchor, The West Wing and As the World Turns characters) it seemed that none of them surpassed their "Annie" credentials. The film isn't about what the women become professionally, it's about how being part of "Annie" shaped their lives emotionally.
It would have been easy to turn this film into a sob-fest about spoiled child stars. But the women are all extremely mature and realistic about their pasts and their futures. They seem aggrieved, blessed, and conflicted about their upbringings on the stage, and in some respects the film takes on a public service announcement that child acting is full of perils.
To juxtapose the women, the film also interviews the play's creators writer/lyricist Martin Charnin and composer Charles Strouse. Charnin particularly is candid about the brutal reality of acting and seems to view child actors as small adult actors and holds them to the same standards. Charnin doesn't come across as cold-hearted but as a matter-of-fact business man.
And while this movie is an emotional story, it is also a business story. These women learned the highs and lows of show business at a young age and this movie is emblematic of that. The scenery is business-casual. The "Annie" clips are visual aids to convey the back-story. The music is an accompaniment. Life After Tomorrow is a powerful presentation about the future of a handful of childhood stars. The film quality, while perfectly viewable and not at all distracting, is along the lines of a deposition: interviewee well lit, perfectly centered, putting their best face forward while recalling a time rife with conflict.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the spartan set and unseen narrator create an effective medium to showcase the women, Life After Tomorrow could benefit from a little more color. "Annie" was a musical and visual show-stopper and this movie could have juxtaposed the past and present by pulling in stronger visual elements of the actual play. Plus, the music is sorely neglected. "Annie" songs are infective and this film made them into elevator music (in focus and quality). Only when the women joined in for impromptu singalongs in the Bonus Features did the "Annie" soundtrack really have a role in this film.
It would have also been fascinating to see the women in their current day-to-day lives. The Bonus Features included more interesting interview segments with the women, but I wanted to see the teacher surrounded by screaming kids, or the mom at home folding laundry, or the bank manager behind a desk. Those visuals contrasted against stills and footage from the National Tour could have been very powerful and added a lot more color to the film.
Overall, Life After Tomorrow is a unique look at the perils of fame…or the perils of the loss of fame. It demystifies the life of a childhood star and makes for fascinating viewing.
Guilty. Broadway is a repeat offender.
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