'Annie' is only a day away

The touring production of "Annie" brings one of Broadway's best-loved characters to life at the Phillips Center on Friday.

Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 8:25 p.m.

On Friday, a certain beloved musical with a heart as big as a touring bus rolls into the Phillips Center - and brings with it one of the most irrepressible little redheads the stage has ever seen.

On Broadway and beyond, "Annie" has been played, freckle-faced and pony-tailed, by actresses ranging from Andrea McArdle to Sarah Jessica Parker (with Molly Ringwald once weighing in as one of the musical's "orphans").

Amanda Balon, the Orlando actress who'll hit the stage running when the musical plays Gainesville, is no doubt having the ride of her young life: She's being treated like America's sweetheart incarnate, and asked to sign autographs and pose for pictures wherever she goes.

And a certain actress in our own midst - a once-redheaded actress in Gainesville who knows of what she speaks - has some advice for her.

"Have fun," says Gainesville's Heather Soroka. "Have fun and enjoy it."

And how does Soroka, a 26-year-old human resources specialist, know her "Tomorrows" from today, and her shaggy-dog Sandys from other pampered pooches the world over?

Because in 1991, at age 11, Soroka toured the country in a year-long tour - the 15th anniversary tour - of "Annie."

It was a role for which she beat out 400 other girls, and for which she received the kind of adulation usually associated with great, European bishops dressed in all-white.

In fact, it was considered the role - the role of a lifetime - for any young girl who wanted to get up on a stage and perform for others in a musical.

"Every night, I would walk out the stage door and there would be a group of people or circle of people waiting for my autograph and waiting to take pictures of me and talk to me," Soroka says.

"And I did interviews in every city that we went to."

But Soroka, who hails from Annapolis, Md., and is now engaged to Gainesville native Morris Gertner, had a way of dealing with the fame that came through playing such an iconic figure of the comics and the movies: She was just herself.

"I knew it was a huge deal (to "be" Annie), but I always kind of just stayed myself," Soroka says. "I didn't really become like 'alittle child star.' "

"I loved what I did, and I loved entertaining; I loved singing."

She loved every second, in fact; she just didn't really understand why people wanted her autograph. She just wanted to hang out with her friends in the cast after the show. And once all of the red dye was out of her blonde hair, she wanted to return to being the normal, All-American student she had been.

"It was a wonderful experience," she says. "But I was humble. And I still am."

So there you have it, ladies and gentleman; true words to live by. For all of today - and all of "Tomorrow."

Bill Dean can be reached at (352-374-5039 or bill.dean@gvillesun.com.

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