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A Visit with Annie Golden and David Caudle

David Caudle and Annie Golden entered my classroom to the sound of enthusiastic, youthful applause over the dulcet tones of Annie's own voice singing Frank Mills from a 2004 Actors Fund concert version of HAIR. As they waved to the children and stepped to the front of the room Annie began singing along to the recording.

Now, to understand the impact of that moment you'd have to travel back in time a bit.

Annie starred in the smash 1979 movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical HAIR. I saw the movie (beautifully directed by Milos Forman) when I was 15-years-old and fell in love with the energy, the attitude and the music. Afterwards, I saved to purchase the 8-track cartridge and listened to it over and over again in my little bedroom. My surroundings may have been small, but as I sang along with Treat Williams, Beverly D'Angelo, John Savage, Nell Carter, Donnie Dacus, and a bewitching Annie Golden, I felt part of something bigger, something magical. That 8-track is forever linked with my dreams of a more expansive relationship with the world beyond my bedroom walls. So, when Annie started singing, my younger self stared in wide-eyed wonder, while my present day self could barely contain the feels.

If listening to Annie harmonize with herself - right in front of me! - was any indication of how the rest of the visit was going to proceed, we were in for something spectacular. The vibe was already electric. NY1 and New York Teacher were on hand to document the visit for a television segment and newspaper article respectively. One photo (in the slideshow above) was shared as "Photo of the Week" by the United Federation of Teachers.

The event was anchored in the beautiful words of David Caudle. David is a playwright and children's book author/illustrator visiting Broadway Books First Class for the second time. His first visit was in April 2016. At that time he read Bitsy the Heaviest Butterfly & Raff the Tenderest Reed, which is a sweet children's fable written by David with illustrations by Anastasia Traina.

It is an exquisite piece of storytelling that concludes with these words, "So the next time you see someone different from you, don't make fun as others in your pond might do. Make friends instead, and you'll have the last laugh, find strength in each other, like Bitsy and Raff."

This time David shared his latest children's book (read by Annie) entitled Viva the Vegan Fly Trap. VIVA espouses a timeless message about staying true to your convictions, even in the face of opposition.

David's work teaches children how to navigate relationships with integrity and kindness. These are lessons I hope they keep with them as they grow. It seems to me David strives to make the world a better place - one book at a time.

Both David and Annie joined me in celebrating literacy and the Arts for the preschool and second grade students in attendance. In addition to the positive message found in VIVA there was another powerful one that we revisited again and again - "You can be anything you want to be!" It began when Annie and David sat side-by-side displaying pictures of themselves as children.

From there Annie shared her journey from lead singer of The Shirts (which headlined CBGB's in the late 70s) to appearing on Broadway to being discovered by Milos Forman for HAIR and a fascinating career that includes many ups (roles in Broadway shows [Leader of the Pack, Ah, Wilderness!, On the Town, The Full Monty, Violet], Stephen Sondheim writing her a song for ASSASSINS, a starring turn in the Netflix juggernaut ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) and some downs (auditions that did not lead to desired roles). This was Annie's story but the children made the important connections to themselves.

Those connections were explored further during the question and answer period following the reading. One child asked David if he was the only person in his family who is hard of hearing. He told them he is and then related a story of how he found out, "I discovered my deaf ear when I was in kindergarten when I couldn't hear a secret someone was whispering." As he continued one boy shot his arm in the air and announced, "That's how I found out!"

It has always been my mission with this program to give students an expanded sense of possibility by being able to see themselves reflected in the guest artists who visit. David certainly helped me achieve that.

The last question the children asked was for Annie, "Can you sing for us?" I held my breath as Annie smiled and said, "Of course". I had sent along the questions beforehand, so Annie was prepared. She took out the sheet music to BABY MINE from DUMBO (a lullaby well-suited to the occasion) and sang! Lordy! With that tune she sweetly placed the cherry on top of the delicious sundae of this visit!

After photographs and personalized messages written on books for each child, we said goodbye. And just like Annie and HAIR opened up the walls of my bedroom to the world beyond all those years ago, for the students who shared the morning with David and Annie the walls of our school could not constrain the scope of their dreams. 

Broadway Books First Class