Life After Tomorrow

The lights, the ovations, the media coverage: life can be a special thing when you’re a child actor working on one of the biggest Broadway success stories of the last 50 years. Then one day, poof, it’s gone. The only thing left behind is real life, with its cold, judgmental attitude and performance expectation. It’s enough to raise the perfectly logical question: why would anyone let their kid become an actor?

“Life After Tomorrow” takes a good, long look at the 1977 theatrical smash “Annie,” and its substantial aftermath for a majority of the cast members. It’s a documentary of enormous joy and heartbreak, asking these former Annies and Orphans to probe into their history on the stage and divulge the cold slap of reality once their time in the limelight was over.

Directors Gil Cates Jr. and Julie Stevens create a compassionate snapshot of fame revoked. Stevens, herself a former “Annie” performer, clearly has sympathy for these women, asking them to reveal some dark, personals thoughts and secrets about their experiences with the blockbuster stage musical. It seems that for every moment of performance bliss, there was a long shadow cast behind it filled with confusion, fear, and pressure. These were young girls in an adult world, and the stories submitted paint a fascinating picture not only of “Annie’s” place in pop culture and musical theater history, but also of the psychological prices paid to keep the sunny side up for the paying audiences.

Stevens, with her annieorphans.com website, has access to countless alumni of “Annie,” not to mention creators Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse. The interviews are enlightening snippets of gossip and emotional regurgitation; a cleansing process for some of these women, who clearly (and rightfully) took every second of their “Annie” time to heart. There are many familiar faces here: Sarah Jessica Parker, April Lerman, Kristin Vigard, Allison Smith, Danielle Brisebois, and even Joanna Pacitti (best known as the Annie who was unceremoniously booted off the 1997 revival), who join with the others creating a rounded portrait of an era and a show that acted as a homing beacon to performance-curious girls across the country.

Strangely, Broadway’s original “Annie,” Andrea McArdle, and 1982’s big-screen performer, Aileen Quinn, are not present for the interviews.

“Tomorrow” isn’t a horror show. In fact, a majority of the documentary is devoted to the tender memories of acting in a powerhouse extravaganza. “Annie” bestowed to these young women a rare sense of power and attention, and for many of these ladies, it made their formative years a thrill (the Studio 54 stories are hilarious). You can sense the purity of joy in these faces when they recall their stint with the show.

The feeling darkens when the downside of acting is addressed. Jealousy, backstage cliques, educational blunders, and stalkers were only some of the troubles rustled up by fame. By far the worst offense “Tomorrow” brings to light are the stage mothers, who often blocked the experience for the own children out of resentment. “Tomorrow” traces a great deal of pain back to the chaperons, many of whom couldn’t properly assume durable parental roles with a spotlight so concentrated.

Body issues were also a major reality. “Annie” wasn’t made with pubescent girls in mind, tossing actresses out of the show at every turn due to growth spurts, weight gain, and assorted pre-teen flowering. The psychological wounds are the most present during this sequence of the film. These actresses were willing to perform “Annie” for the rest of their lives, only to be dragged out when their bodies revolted. “Tomorrow” shows that to this day, the pain still simmers behind this wonderful collection of faces and personalities.

Overall, “Tomorrow” can be too erratic, jumping from subject to subject aggressively, especially when attention turns to rabid “Annie” collector Jon Merrill, who lives and breathes the history of this young character, but is quick to remind the camera he’s no pedophile. Merrill is a Christopher Guestian wonder worth an entire film of his own, however, in “Tomorrow,” he’s thrown into the mix carelessly, adding to the overall spastic nature of the documentary.

THE DVD

Visual:

“Life After Tomorrow” is offered in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), and, for a homegrown documentary, it looks adequate. Some pixelation occurs during the presentation, but colors are striking (especially the ever-present reds), and detail is acceptable throughout.

Audio:

Only a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is included on the DVD, so don’t expect any of the “Annie” musical numbers to reveal much sonic depth. Still, this is a perky mix for a documentary, with interview audio crisp and performance footage expectedly loud.

Extras:

A battery of deleted interview footage (about 30 minutes worth) dives into subjects the documentary left behind, including a discussion of the film version of “Annie,” Jay-Z’s iconic usage of “Hard-Knock Life,” where the various Sandys ended up, understudy horror stories, and more with Merrill and his home museum. Great stuff here, but without a “play all” function, it’s annoying to navigate.

A photo slideshow (2 minutes) of famous “Annie” historical landmarks and actress snapshots compliments the feature film well. This supplement also provides a welcome “then and now” photographic yearbook.

“Orphans Reunite” (6 minutes) brings back some of the Orphans to perform their old hits. There’s a cringe factor here that’s hard to ignore, but it’s easy to discern the psychological merit of the clips.

And finally, a trailer is included.

FINAL THOUGHTS

“Tomorrow” is ultimately optimistic about “Annie” and the desire of these women to process their tour of duty with the show in increasingly healthy ways. Through reunions and websites, Stevens has been able to put a face on an overlooked component of theater life. “Life After Tomorrow” doesn’t reveal much about the creation of “Annie,” but the disclosures and doubts held by the women who brought it to life are enlightening and touching. For these gifted performers, “Annie” wasn’t just a one-time show, but a way of life that shaped their development and still fuels their dreams to this day.

Rating: B+
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