I had the good fortune to attend “Annie” with my mother a week ago Wednesday. I’m not writing to discuss the performance itself, which was impeccably sung and acted. My concern is with G.W. Clift’s review in Sunday’s paper. His was inexcusably condescending, not toward the professional performers, who can expect criticism as part of their job, but toward audience members — particularly those with children.
While a disproportionate amount of the review was devoted to analyzing the audience rather than the show, his final sentence stole the show in the worst way possible: “One hopes their attendance will teach them they can enjoy live theatre, and that we’ll see them again at McCain — though hopefully when they are a few years older and a little quieter.”
Appalling. “A few years older?” “A little quieter?” This smacks of snobbish elitism that goes against everything Manhattan stands for. Certainly, if an infant has a meltdown, it would be best to step out until the moment passes. But from my seat I heard no disruptions and there were definitely theatre munchkins in close proximity. The excited chatter or occasional out-of-place comment from a young person in the audience is to be expected from fellow patrons of a family show. And yes, “Annie” is a family show, despite Clift’s emphasis on how the historical context might go over some people’s heads.
In-depth knowledge of the Great Depression is not required to appreciate the timeless message of love, family and eternal optimism. Rather than fret about how much of the context might be missed, Clift could’ve presented this as an opportunity to bring history to life in conversations following the show. We only have to look at the example of “Hamilton” to see how musical theatre can ignite the minds of young people and generate a voracious interest in history.
As a Manhattan High School graduate who participated in four years of musical productions, three years of choir and five years of collegiate choirs, allow me to inform you that there is no age requirement for theatre attendance. Children are actually some of the most rewarding people to perform for. During my time at MHS, we did matinee performances of “Seussical” and “Beauty in the Beast” for local elementary schools, and the reactions we got from those shows were unlike any other. While adults (including myself) can be self-conscious about publicly overreacting, the children weren’t afraid to laugh long and loud, or collectively gasp when the curtain rose to reveal the elaborately costumed cast. It gave us an adrenaline rush that heightened the entire performance and had us walking on clouds for days. Wholehearted appreciation is what performers, both amateur and professional, live for.
I sincerely hope that none of the adults who took children to “Annie” read Clift’s review. If they did, then I hope they read this, too, and take it to heart: keep bringing your kids to shows. They don’t have to be older. They don’t have to be quieter. If you’re like Clift and are tired of hearing “Tomorrow,” don’t tell them that. Let them belt it out for the thousandth time and encourage that fire. Maybe in one year, or two or 10, they’ll be singing that same song in a lead role at the MAC, Manhattan Parks & Rec summer musical, MHS fall musical or through K-State Theatre. I hope the hilariously exuberant child cast of “Annie” inspires them.
In a day and age when young children are exposed to objectively inappropriate content (including taking them to the new “Deadpool” movie, which I witnessed firsthand), I am livid that Clift would take to task those parents, grandparents and friends who chose to have a fun, wholesome evening at “Annie” with members of the next generation. In an earlier part of his review, Clift postulates that perhaps families used the tickets as a Christmas treat, and that explains how so many children under the age of 12 were able to infiltrate the occasion. Well, maybe they did, and good job to them for doing it. Or maybe they just realized what Clift hasn’t — that “Annie” (and McCain at large) is for everyone, regardless of what month it is or whether they can recognize the show’s reference to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.
It certainly is the Christmas season, but G.W. Clift is the only person I can see whose heart is two sizes too small.
Hannah Ens lives at 1426 Beechwood Terrace, Apt. 4.
“The excited chatter or occasional out-of-place comment from a young person in the audience is to be expected from fellow patrons of a family show.”