The national tour of Annie opened last night at Washington, D.C.’s National Theatre and it’s a perfect way to introduce elementary ages to award winning musicals that have longer performance times than family theater venues. Originally based on Harold Gray’s popular comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, the story and songs of Annie are delightfully familiar to parents. Kids will be captivated by the charming story (complete with real dog!) interspersed with songs that will leave them humming along long after the show ends.
Whether your kids are veteran theater patrons or new to live performing arts, it’s always a good idea to talk about the show you’re about to see. Providing children of all ages with a bit of background information allows them to better understand the context of what they’re seeing and it never hurts to review proper theater behavior so everyone can enjoy the show!
6 Things to Do to Prepare Your Kids for Seeing Annie
1. Know what parts of the show could spark teachable moments
Parents should know that there is a bit of swearing by adult characters (we heard hell and damn) during the show that didn’t phase the 3 tween girls I was with but might raise eyebrows of those with younger kids. The girls also raved about the performance of Ms. Hannigan played by Lynn Andrews. We were impressed by the range of her voice and the comedic edge she brought to the role even though she is quite boozy and her character often sips from the bottle during the show. Depending on the age of your kids, these might be things that go right over their heads. Tweens and older kids will definitely pick up on the subtleties making them great teachable moments.
2. Discuss the real-life events and characters that inspired Annie
Kids looking forward to the musical should know that it takes place in the 1930s during the time of the Depression, a time when over 15 million Americans were unemployed. The country was already in a recession but the stock market crash of 1929 resulted in the Great Depression. The decade ushered out President Herbert Hoover and welcomed Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) as President whose New Deal was designed to help stabilize the economy and create jobs.
Other names that are mentioned in the musical include First Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover who is mentioned from time to time as Warbucks calls on FDR’s assistance in finding Annie’s parents. Nortorious gangster, Al Capone, is referred to as the case the nation’s G-Men are pulled off of in order to help in the search and when Annie first arrives at the Warbucks’ estate, the billionaire says Rockefeller, Groucho Marx, and others can wait for him to call them back as he attends to Annie. For more history of the 1930s, visit History.com.
3. Have a quick vocabulary lesson to introduce kids to the terms they’ll hear in the musical
Younger kids might not have an understanding of what an orphan is and if you think the idea of going through life without parents might be scary to hear about in the musical for the first time, brief them ahead of time. Elementary ages familiar with Harry Potter will understand that Harry was an orphan. Adoption is another theme that’s easy for kids to understand once they see the love that develops between Annie and Oliver Warbucks in the musical but some children might benefit from being briefed on the topic before you go.
4. Talk about proper theater behavior
From start to finish, the performance is approximately two and a half hours (the first act is approximately an hour and a half with a 15 intermission before the hour-long second act) which can be a long time to sit. Before you go, talk about how to be a good audience member including using a whisper during the performance (those around you and the performers on stage can hear you talking!), being still to not disturb others around you (no kicking seats!), and silencing your cell phone and not using it during the performance. There are no photos allowed once you are inside The National Theater and ushers strictly enforce the policy as they make their way up and down the aisles!
Also review the program when you take your seats to give kids a sense of when they can expect a 15 minute intermission and update them accordingly throughout the performance if they get antsy. The great thing about Annie is that your child won’t be the only one there and parents are quite understanding of bathroom and snack needs if you need to get up in an emergency. Just remind your child to exercise good manners by saying “excuse me” when they get up mid-show and are squeezing by other theater patrons. The show is snack friendly and food and beverages can be purchased both in the lobby and on the second floor but exercise caution in reaching into a crinkly snack bag. The noise can be heard by others around you! Lines for food and drinks do get long so if you’re heading to the 2 pm performance goers, plan on a hearty lunch. Evening attendees should leave time to have a good dinner before the 7:30 and 8 pm shows.
5. Explore the website to give kids an idea of what they’ll see during the performance
Annie fans and those new to Annie will enjoy seeing video clips that include reviews by kids, behind the scenes looks with cast members, musical numbers that you’ll see at the show, and some fun covers of favorite Annie tunes by notables like Ethel Merman! There are also photos from the show and links to Annie social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
6. Watch the movies
While parents grew up with the 1982 Columbia Pictures version of Annie starring Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, and Aileen Quinn as Annie, our kids are probably more familiar with the 2014 version with Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz, Bobby Cannavale, and Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie. It’s worth seeing both movies to give kids an idea of the story line and a preview of the fantastic musical numbers before the live performance. Plus the movies aren’t the same as the musical!
3 Things to Do After Seeing Annie
1. Understand how the New Deal affects us today
From social security to the improvement of the country’s national park system started by his brother, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, many of FDR’s New Deal initiatives affect us today. This two minute video explains how FDR helped get the country back on track.
2. Make a plan to visit a National Park
“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks… is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”
– President Franklin D. Roosevelt
In honor of FDR, make a plan to visit a National Park. The Every Kid in a Park initiative allows each 4th grader across the country to experience their federal public lands and waters in person throughout the 2015-2016 school year and your family’s National Park Adventure can be a great way to help your kids learn more about our great nation through travel.
3. Find other family friendly performances in your area
We’re fortunate to have so many theaters featuring productions that are geared towards different ages at incredible venues like The National Theater, The Kennedy Center, and The Warner Theater as well as smaller stages to acquaint kids with theater experiences. This spring Jersey Boys and The Wizard of Oz are coming to the National Theatre. More information about performance dates and times can be found at www.thenationaldc.com or by calling the subscription hotline at (855) 486-2516.
Annie Performances Dates and Discount
Annie is in Washington, D.C. until March 20 and dates and times of performances can be found on the National Theater website. Certifikid is offering 25% off tickets for the 7:30 pm Thursday show (March 17th) and 8 pm Friday show (March 18th). To see if Annie is coming to a city near you, visit the Annie website for upcoming tour dates and locations.
Getting to the Show and Parking in DC
It’s easy to Metro to the theater but we used Parking Panda to pre-pay for a parking spot before we headed to the show. Parking Panda is a free app for Android and iOS that helps users find, reserve, and pay for on-demand parking for far less than the posted prices on area garages. They’ve partnered with The National Theater to help theater goers reserve a parking spot by pre-paying via their website or app. Information on using Parking Panda to find availability in nearby garages can be found on the Directions & Parking portion of The National Theater’s website.
We received complimentary tickets to attend Annie but all opinions are my own with feedback from my young theater-goers! Images courtesy of Annie at the National Theatre © Joan Marcus. Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.