By Deborah Wilker
Less than six months ago nine-year-old Issie Swickle was a typical third-grader at Fox Trail Elementary School in Davie, enjoying sleepovers with her best friends and looking forward to summer camp.
But by late August there was no back-to-school shopping. No official start of fourth grade. Instead, Issie and her mom, Dana, were in a Manhattan rehearsal hall, working with some of the most renown names in the American theater. Just weeks earlier Issie had blown away producers at a mass casting call for a new national tour of the classic Broadway musical Annie – beating out hundreds of other young ladies for the lead role of a lifetime.
Now everyday events like family dinners are on hold while mother and daughter tour the country and Issie’s father and older brother hold down the fort at home. Upon hearing the news that she was to be the latest Annie – following in the footsteps of actresses such as Andrea McArdle and Sarah Jessica Parker – all Issie could say is, “It’s crazy!”
The tour began in Detroit late last month and stops at the Broward Center for The Performing Arts Oct. 7-19. The show is slated to visit at least 20 American cities through July 2015.
And this isn’t just any old production of Annie. This one is shepherded by Martin Charnin, who conceived, directed and wrote the lyrics for the original Broadway production in 1977.
Issie’s theatrical adventures began about four years ago when Dana says the family “just accidentally” happened upon the Broadway Kids Studio in Davie, and ended up holding Issie’s 5th birthday party there.
Her daughter was immediately enamored with the studio’s array of acting, singing and dancing classes and was soon a regular, taking lessons there every day after school and every summer, as well as participating in the center’s theatrical productions.
Last year a friend suggested they attend a more advanced theater workshop in New York, during which Issie was spotted and then scooped up by an agent.
Says Dana: “We said ‘sure, we’ll go,’ not realizing what we were getting ourselves into!”
Issie says she isn’t worried about missing school (she will study via a home-schooling program), or about missing the rest of her family. Her mother has already planned out frequent family visits, “and plus we FaceTime every night.”
She has performed in local productions of Annie twice before, playing the younger orphan role of Molly. So she was comfortable with material before rehearsals even began – though she does admit to a bit of nervousness.
“Well at first I was nervous, but I really wasn’t because I knew it was going to be fun – but also a lot of pressure. So I was nervous but I wasn’t. I think I was just excited.”
The same cannot quite be said of mom, who has spent the last several weeks reorganizing her family’s logistical life. Though she is viewing the temporary upheaval pragmatically.
“Once we realized she was going to be Annie my husband and I sat down and said we’ll figure out whatever we need to – and we’ll make it work. There was no question in our minds,” Dana says.
“But it is a crazy time for us. Within one year she was attending camp, then a workshop, and then we had an agent – and now Annie. It’s beyond our imagination.
“We were told she was talented. We had heard things like, ‘trust me, one day your child is going to be on Broadway.’ But in our wildest imagination I still don’t understand how we got here. I can’t even think past tomorrow.”
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Annie, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 7-19, browardcenter.org.