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Former 'Annie' visits Texarkana and Texas High stage production

by Junius Stone | November 6, 2021 at 10:34 p.m.
Shelley Bruce, the second actress to play Annie on Broadway, provided theater coaching for the Texas High Tiger Theater Company as they prepared for a production of Annie. She attended their show on Friday night. (Staff photo by Junius Stone)

TEXARKANA, Texas -- The sun will come out tomorrow, so as the song goes, but Friday night, the stars came out as Shelley Bruce, one of the original performers portraying Annie on the Broadway stage attended the Texas High Tiger Company performance of Annie.

Since her time on the stage, Bruce has spent many years involved with behind-the-scenes work, advising productions and performers on various aspects of stage production. It is in this context she became connected with Texas High's production of Annie.

"Stacey Mayo got me on board through a mutual friend," Bruce said. "Her daughter, Alexis, was playing Annie tonight. I love coaching kids who are performing in theater. I thought it was great to help out, come down, see the production, meet the kids."

As the production built up, some of the initial contacts were via social media, such as meeting with the orphans cast members. But she made it a point to be there that night, to see the performance in person.

"Of all the performing arts, there is nothing like a live stage show," she said. "It is all there, in the moment. All the risks, all the rewards. One of the key advantages is you have your audience right there, see what they react to and how. If you are doing multiple performances, you can use their reactions for adjustments to what seems to work, what does not."

Bruce took over the role of Annie on Broadway as a kid, originally performing in the production as Kate, and serving as understudy to her best friend Andrea McArdle. When McArdle left the production for another venue, Bruce took over the role for a year. Eventually, she left, and Sarah Jessica Parker took over in her place.

Bruce eventually left the theater, focusing on her family and other pursuits. Nowadays, she carries on consulting for theater productions, focusing on behind-the-scenes parts. She also produces crafts, such as crochet, and sells pieces on her website, She donates a portion of the proceeds to Sloane Kettering, honoring their work in cancer research, as she at a point in her life battled leukemia.

As to her theater experience, though it was long ago, she looks back on it fondly and notes the things she developed because of her experience.

"Doing it so young, it taught me discipline," said Bruce. "Working Broadway, even as a child, you are under contract, with legal obligations. You have to discipline yourself to meet those obligations. That pays dividends down the line."

On the benefits of local theater programs, she is an enthusiastic advocate.

"Theater gives local performers, especially kids, a chance to explore in ways they might not otherwise get, emotionally and physically," she said.

For those who want to make a career our of the business of show, Bruce said be ready to handle rejection.

"That's a showbiz career, being told 'no.' Be ready to take that and forge on," she said. "Also, learn flexibility, find the joy in what you are doing. Do it above all because you love what you do."

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