Heidi Gray, a South Carolina girl with family support in spades, is playing the world’s most renowned orphan these days in the Broadway national tour of “Annie” that entertains ASU Gammage-goers next week. Eleven-year-old Gray visited with Examiner yesterday about the adventure of her first professional show.
“I was screaming. My mom was crying. My grandma was laughing,” giggled Gray as she relayed the call she got that offered her the Annie role when the three of them were in the car together.
It had been a long road for the girl and her family who live in North Augusta, a town of 21,000, on the North bank of the Savannah River in South Carolina. After two years of callbacks for Broadway’s “Matilda,” Gray had taken her mom’s assurances seriously.
“It’s just not your time yet,’ Mom kept telling me,” said Gray, who had been continuing to hone her skills in main-stage productions at Augusta’s community theater playhouse with roles from “Les Miserable,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Shrek,” and “Wizard of Oz.”
“I want to be on Broadway,” she had told her mom when she was only three. “It was pretty funny, because I had THE biggest stage fright back then. When everyone else would be singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ with the preschool church choir, I would run off crying.”
With possibly the most involved parents an orphan ever had, Gray said her dad has been her primary travel companion since January when she joined the tour of this timeless musical (“Annie,” having won 7 Tonys for its NYC debut in 1977 was recently revived on Broadway, 2012-2014). That is until last week, when her grandma came so that they “could have a little girl time” out on the road.
In a response uncharacteristic perhaps of the typical ‘tween,’ Gray noted she misses school. Even though her computer syncs with her local South Carolina middle school during the young cast members’ daily tour tutor time, there are group activities and friends that can’t be replaced.
That’s not to say that the touring existence is a hard knock life by any means, though she and her stage buddies might have you believe it from the Gammage seats’ vantage point. In fact, some of the biggest perks Gray cited about her performance lifestyle were her new friends in the cast, namely the other orphans and Sandy, Little Orphan Annie’s canine friend. Sandy is played by two alternating mutts, Macy and Sunny.
“Sometimes we get to have slumber parties with Sandy! The dogs also travel with the kids on the tour bus,” Gray explained. And don’t tell the hotel staff, but Macy and Sunny cuddle on the beds with the girls when they have “sleepovers.”
Like the character she plays onstage, Gray is an endearing young lady in large part because of her disarming inclusion and appreciation of the less visible folks by whom she’s surrounded.
“Our stage hands and crew are the hardest workers,” she maintained. “They work through the middle of the night. They improvise so everything runs smoothly, like the time our set was too big for the venue and the orphanage bunk beds wouldn’t fit on the stage.”
See Gray and the “Annie” production next week at ASU Gammage. Whether it’s new tour sisters, surrogate pets, tutors, or the carpenters who stay up until 4am–or even her 8-year-old brother Sam and Mom who are cheering from her Augusta home–…..
Bet your bottom dollar, Gray’s orphan Annie knows that the sun coming out every tomorrow in this venture is a huge family effort.