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Life as 'Annie' -- chatting with an 11-year-old trouper

By Amy Duncan / May 11, 1981


How does a little girl find life on the road in a major musical show? Eleven-year-old Theda Stemler, the latest star of the touring company of "Annie," seems to take it all pretty much in stride. I spoke with Theda and her mother at the Colonial Theater here recently, where "Annie" is playing. (for Theda and her mother, Boston is the end of the tour, but the show goes on -- it opens May 20 in Toronto for three weeks, then opens in Los Angeles on June 13 for an extended run.)

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Theda is no stranger to show business, though she could hardly be called a seasoned show-biz kid. She was crowned "Little Miss Virginia Beach" in 1977, and aside from doing some school and little theater productions and a couple of telethons, Theda's first really big role was in "Annie," where she started out playing one of the orphans and was, as she says, "promoted to Annie" later on.

"But I've been an orphan practically all the time," says Theda, who has performed in two productions of "Oliver." "I played the role of Oliver in the school production because no boy really wanted to do it. I had my hair in a bun -- it was long then --tucked up under a cap. Then in the little theater production I was one of the work boys."

But Theda has come a long way since then. She had to audition with 200 other little girls for the role of Annie.

"It was my third audition, but it was still kind of scary -- there were so many people. But I knew that they liked me because after we auditioned everybody said, 'Oh, you're going to get it, you're going to get it!' We were supposed to sing eight bars of a song we'd picked.I had picked 'You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile' -- that's from the show -- for my audition piece. But they still asked me to sing "Tomorrow" -- the whole song -- so I felt really confident then."

Would she have been horribly disappointed if she didn't get it?

"No, no I wouldn't have. I would have just gone out and tried for some more, " she replied, with true professional spirit.

Like so many girls her age, Theda has studied dance, which she says helped her with her role in "Annie." But she wasn't all that crazy about it when she was younger.

"I took ballet when I was three, but I didn't like it much because it was too slow. Then I took gymnastics and I liked it, but it was too much moving and jumping around. I don't know, it just didn't work out for me. But then I took tap and I liked it and I took it for about two years. In this show it helped to have a little jazz dance --I took a short jazz class for a couple of weeks and that helped."

What about the waltz you do with Daddy Warbucks in the show?

"My daddy's a very good dancer and he taught me to do the waltz."

Although Theda thoroughly enjoys what she is doing, I wondered if it ever gets boring for her, doing the same show over and over every night.

"It's not really boring," she said, "because you have a different audience every night and that helps. After you do your first scene, everybody's going around backstage saying either 'It's a wonderful audience,' or 'They're awful! They're not laughing at anything!' The whole cast loves it when the audience gives us a standing ovation. It makes everybody feel so good."