Oakville sisters tour in production of ‘Annie’

By BILL MILLIGAN

Two preteens from Oakville are learning what it’s like to be child stars.

Molly and Lindsay Ryan are two of four young finalists for major roles in several Muny stage productions this summer and just recently returned from six months of touring with the cast of the 30th anniversary production of the Broadway show “Annie.”

Despite all the acting, the two daughters of Mike and Kim Ryan don’t regard themselves as stars.

“We still have to carry our own suitcases and stuff like that,” 10-year-old Molly said.

“We would have to sign autographs for 30 minutes,” 8-year-old Lindsay said.

But Molly and Lindsay’s younger sister, Kaleigh, 5, signed the first autograph of the tour, Mike recalled.

The experience began last April when the family took the pair to New York for auditions that drew 465 youngsters.

“There were kids from all over the world auditioning for these parts,” Kim said. “Molly and Lindsay would get call back after call back as others were asked to leave. When Molly would be called, we would be sitting there thinking, oh, gosh, I hope Lindsay gets called, too. Or, the other way around. We didn’t want to have the problem that one would stay and the other would be asked to leave.” After the first day 200 children were still being considered. The next day 200 children were reduced to 100, then 75 and then 48.

“Then they put them into little cast groupings, Annie and her orphans groupings times five or six,” Kim said. “Then you would see entire casts get cut.”

“There were kids crying and parents crying,” Lindsay said.

“Mike and I were looking at each other like ‘what in the world?”’ Kim said. “But our kids never got released.”

“It was all supposed to be over at 2 p.m. on Sunday,” Mike said. “It got down to 11 kids left and we had missed two flights, already.”

“It was a great experience and we’ll never forget it,” Molly said.

Once the casting directors had trimmed the field, they released the finalists without making a final decision. The Ryan family was physically and emotionally worn out. Worse, they had to wait for hours for another flight to St. Louis, so they decided to rent a car and drive home.

“We made it to like, Effingham (Ill.),” Kim Ryan remembered. “It was 3 a.m. and the casting director called and said they had been cast. It was unbelievable.”

“We did something that no one normally does,” Lindsay said.

When they returned to New York, they would see St. Louis for only two weeks out of the next six months. Those two weeks were courtesy of a December show at the Fox Theatre and a week off for Christmas afterward.

The cast and crew did eight shows a week in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Denver, Tucson, Tempe, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Louisville and Tampa.

“We loved staying in hotels because we didn’t have to make our beds for a year,” Lindsay said.

“(It) felt pretty good to get home, though,” Molly said. “It was pretty long to be on the road for six months living out of a suitcase.”

Thanksgiving was in Philadelphia and Halloween was in Phoenix. They trick-or-treated at their hotel.

“The head wardrobe made our Halloween costumes,” Molly said.

“We trick-or-treated at the rooms where the crew was staying,” Lindsay said. “They had these cool costumes.”

And they transformed a room into a haunted house where costumed people would jump out and scare them and roar.

“We collected six bags of candy,” Molly said.

They performed more than 160 shows in six months with just a few days off. On weekends they did matinees and evening shows.

Monday was the travel day. When they weren’t acting, they were in school.

They got to read reviews of their work and they learned how to sense when the audience was hooked by their performance.

“We could always gauge the crowd by Lindsay’s tap solo,” Kim said. “If there was applause in the middle, it was a good crowd.”

“There was lots of crying at the end of the show,” Lindsay said.

They met celebrities and dignitaries in every city and appeared on the red carpet in Los Angeles with Bruce Willis and Reba McEntire. They toured the Space Needle in Seattle, Wash., and Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, Calif.

“We got to do bungee jumping,” Molly said.

“Every night we got to sit and talk with (cast member) Mackenzie (Phillips),” Lindsay said. “How different it was from our life.”

One cast member got sick and had to leave the production, and several cast members changed parts to pick up the slack. They continue to track her recovery even after returning to their life in St. Louis.

“It was hard to walk away from the friends that we made,” Molly said.

“There may be more big things in the future,” Kim said. “But if not being a regular kid and developing as a normal child is very enticing, too. You can definitely see the troubles that develop in someone who is a child star and then as they grow. Coming off the tour you kind of get this now-what feeling.”

“We tried to emphasize with the girls that this is what they do, not who they are,” Mike said.

“It’s emotionally lucrative and they made a good check,” Kim said. “How many curtain calls, how many standing ovations, how many autographs do you have to have before it’s enough. For us, we just felt that six months was enough. It was not an easy decision.”

The girls will find out what roles they will play at the Muny this week.