Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Need for Nancy

Those who know me are well aware that one of my greatest passions in life is theater, musical theater to be exact. I've been on stage for 37 years, doing various shows since I was just six years old. I love performing, losing myself in a character, and I find I do that best when I get to sing. I've been thinking tonight of the various roles I've been privileged to play on stage and of which was my favorite. In third place? The character of matchmaker Dolly Levi. I was lucky enough to play this lead in the musical Hello Dolly at two different times in my life, once at age 17 and again at age 42. Each were unforgettable experiences. In second place? The Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. I remember fighting for the role at auditions. The musical director was thinking of having me go for Glinda the Good Witch. I remember saying, "No! I want the Wicked Witch! Please let me cackle for you!" It was my cackle, I am sure, that won me the role, albeit a non-singing part. I lied about being afraid of heights, knowing I'd be hoisted above the stage to play the role. I will never forget "scaring" all the child actors, wearing the green make-up, disappearing in puffs of smoke and through a trap door when I "melted". It was such fun!

So which role is my favorite? Well, for various reasons, it's the role of Nancy in Oliver! , a musical retelling of Charles Dickens' novel, Oliver Twist. I played this role in 2002 and both of my daughters starred as orphans in the opening scene. It's probably no coincidence that each of them shares my passion for musical theater. They may have been young, but my girls easily recognized how happy I was to play this role.

In Oliver!, Nancy is the street girl with the heart of gold. Nancy defends her lot, calling it "A Fine Life", but it's her sadness, her maternal instincts, and her attempts at joy as she dances on tables and drinks in her scenes with the townspeople in "Omm Pah Pah" that haunt my memory. However, of all of Nancy's scenes, it's those with her abusive man, Bill Sykes, that truly made me fall hard for this role. Literally. When Nancy begins to sing the song, "As Long As He Needs Me", she has just been violently back-handed by Bill Sikes because she didn't want to go along with his criminal plan.

Nancy picks herself up off the floor and with tears in her eyes, she begins her ballad. "As long as he needs me. Oh yes he does need me. In spite of what you see, I'm sure that he needs me....The way I feel inside... The love I have to hide... But hell, I got my pride as long as he needs me". The song is that of an abused victim justifying her love for her man. "He doesn't say the things he should. He acts the way he thinks he should. But all the same, I'll play the game his way. As long as he needs me, I know where I must be. I'll cling on steadfastly as long as he needs me. As long as life is long. I'll love him... right or wrong. And somehow I'll be strong, as long as he needs me"

After several phrases, the sadness of the song sinks in. Nancy comes to realize that, in her loneliness and in her station in life, there is no turning back. She will sing of her love and loyalty to her abusive bully of a boyfriend until it's the death of her. "I won't betray his trust, though people say I must. I've got to stay true just as long as he needs me". Coming as no real surprise near the end of the play, Bill confronts Nancy when he incorrectly believes she has betrayed him. Screaming under the London Bridge, Nancy's pleas end as Bill stabs and kills her.

Everything about this role was amazing--adopting the cockney accent, the dancing and singing in the bar room scene, being knocked to the ground, and a death scene?! Come on! What fun! But it's truly the song, the singing of "As Long As He Needs Me", that has been my proudest moment as an musical theater actress. Belting that song in Deertrees Theater, looking into the theater lights above me, and taking ownership of that moment as Nancy was incredibly powerful. I remember coming back to myself at one point in the song and thinking, "Don't ever forget this moment, this feeling, Anne. This is where you belong. This is happiness".

Yeah. I've got to get myself back on stage. I need another Nancy moment.


  1. i remember going to see this playy! it was seriously amazing! :) your an amazing actress and an amazing singer. :) :) (sometimes while you sing at church i am nearly in tears from your voice)

  2. Sorry I missed that one. Wonderful & so great that you girls got to experience that with you!!! Xxxooo