Okay, I want in on the ANNIE conversation.
I have been hesitant to write a bit because it crosses two worlds of mine that I love dearly.
Adoption world and theater world.
I have to say I have been surprised by some of the reviews and conversations out there.
This will not be a review. Pure opinion. And here it is:
I loved it.
Loved it from the very beginning to the very end.
When I walked into the theater I was nervous. I do not like people playing around with classics. I like to keep the authenticity of the story. And this one in particular. The stage musical ANNIE consumed three summers of my life in 1992, 1993, and 1994. I played the orphan July, Annie, and orphan chorus. Then just a few years back I had the chance to direct the show. So to say this one in particular means something to me is an understatement.
But I loved it.
I thought that the changes in the music and script were intelligent, clever, witty, and fitting for a new generation. And really fitting where our society is, where America is within the context of the "orphan". In case you didn't know, we really do have a crisis on our hands here in the United States. In my state alone, Kansas, there are 3,000 kids in the foster care system and 850 are waiting to be adopted (www.adoptkskids.org). That is just the state of Kansas. According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute there are 397,122 children in the foster care system and 101,666 waiting to be adopted in the US. So yes, we need to bring this to the light. And the best part? It would be this show to do this. Why you ask? Stay with me during a little musical theater history if you don't mind.
The story of Annie comes from a poem by James Whitcomb Riley
He wrote it based on a little orphan girl, Allie, his family had in their home growing up
Then it became a comic strip in the newspaper by Harold Gray
Then a musical
Then a movie
The comic strip was used to highlight issues that were happening like jobs, organized labor, the New Deal, and political issues of the time.
So when I say, ANNIE is the perfect choice to bring foster care in America to light, you know what I mean. The comic strip did that. It pushed the envelope for what was going on in the world around them. And that is what this movie does as well. All around us are kids who need a home. A family. A family that is willing to stand in the gap for another family.
The time really is now for us to see that.
Which brings me to the best part of the whole change in this movie. She is a foster child. And you remember where the story originated from? The poem? The poem was based on a little girl, Allie, who was an orphan that grew up in Mr. Riley's home, in the 1800's. People. That just slays me!
Don't you just love knowing that this all began because a man and his family fostered themselves? Allie was a foster child.
And now the new movie brings it back to its start, foster care.
The undertones of hope, love, the ability people have to change, the ability people have to hope again and again, determination, believing in something more than yourself...it's all there. Because, those are the things we see when we begin to see through a lens outside of ourselves. In many ways, saying yes to the orphan has given Dave and I completely new lenses. We see the world and our place in this world completely different then we used to.
The movie shows that through Daddy Warbucks. He had no idea what saying yes to this child would mean for him, but he began seeing life through a new lens. I mean, Grace had been alongside him for quite some time and he never saw love when it was right there. But through Annie, he got new vision. And in many ways, he was able to open himself up to the possibility. She came in and changed everyone. I personally love how she changed Hannigan in the new film. I thought Cameron Diaz did a great job. No one wants to rival Carol Burnett, people. But the new story line gave her permission to be different. I have read people thought she was too mean. And I might have thought the same thing as well. Until I heard a foster child speak at my church. She said that none of her foster parents were nice to her. One foster mom even told her that she would never be adopted by anyone. My heart fell to the floor when this 12 year old girl said that. Then I am sitting in this movie hearing Diaz say the same words to Annie. I was broken all over again.
I also learn a lot from Annie as I prepare to bring our child or children into our home. I watch adoption videos and sometimes the kids are crying when their new family comes to embrace them for the first time. As a caseworker you prepared your families for that possibility. You see, I know that somewhere in Africa our child or children aren't sitting around waiting for me to come to them as much as I am sitting waiting to get to them. In many ways, they might still be holding out hope that their Mom or Dad will be the ones coming through that gate....not me. The hardest scene in the musical depicts just that. Daddy Warbucks surprises Annie with a new locket, even from Tiffany's!
It's a silver locket, Annie. I noticed that old, broken one you always wear, and I said to myself I'm going to get that kid a nice new locket.
Gosh, thanks, Mr. Warbucks. Thank you very much.
Here, we'll just take this old one off and...
No, no please don't make me take my locket off. I don't want a new one. This locket, my Mom and Dad left it with me when...when they left me at the orphanage. And there was a note, too. They're coming back for me. And, oh, I know being here with you for Christmas, I'm real lucky. But...I don't know how to say it. The one thing I want in all the world...more than anything else is to find my mother and father. And be like other kids, with folks of my own.
Even living in a mansion with servants and anything she could ever want....all she really wanted was to have her Mom and Dad. I think of that scene often when I think of our child. You see, to her it wasn't an old broken locket...it was her only connection to her family. And it was what kept her hoping. The new movie didn't depict a locket but it did show her going to a restaurant every Friday waiting. Knowing that the note that was left for her was from there. So every Friday she would go and wait. It was her place of hope. Week in and week out she would go because she had hope. I also loved that she slept under a table. She had this amazing bed to sleep in, but it was big, scary, unsafe. That even though she was in a room full of bunk beds in not great conditions, that was what felt safe to her, its all she knew. So she made her own little bed. I was reminded to be mindful of the little things I see when I am where our child has lived. To remember what kind of bed they slept in, the room, what it was like for them. Because even though our home will more than likely be so much more than they have ever had...that doesn't make it better.
Gracious. The loss and gain is mind blowing.
I am thankful for this movie. I am thankful that they took a risk. That they brought foster care to the forefront. And that sweet little Annie with all of her spunk, delightfulness, charm, free spiritedness, and hope is still stealing hearts of people.
If you haven't thought about foster care or adoption, I encourage you to think about it! And please know, you don't have to foster or adopt to be involved. Our church has begun forming wrap groups for families who are in the thick of it. We are in a wrap group for a family down the street from us. She will call or text for a meal, for prayer, for clothes, and our family has committed to standing with them as they stand in the gap for so many Kansas families. Maybe you have clothes that don't fit your kids anymore, toys, cribs, pac and plays, books, beds, etc. Call a local church or agency to see if they have a closet you could donate. That is wrapping. That is standing in the gap.
And to be honest, in many ways, you are part of telling a child that they are worth fighting for.
That hope is not lost.
They are not forgotten.
That even in the darkest spaces the sun will come out tomorrow. That as they stick up their chins and grin, they do not have to do it by themselves. We just weren't created to do this life alone.
So yes, you are not only telling them that the sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow they'll be sun, but bet your bottom dollar, I'll be right beside you to see that sunrise.