Sixth-grade student from Severna Park ' Annie' on tour

October 25, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Tomorrow is no longer "only a day away" for Heather Lee Soroka.

This 10-year-old Severna Park sixth-grader has clearly arrived.

As the title character in the national touring production of "Annie," the young actress belts out the above lyrics from the show's signature song eight times a week in front of thousands of people. And she'll be belting them out in her native state beginning Tuesday, when "Annie" opens a one-week run at the Lyric Opera House.

Heather won the role -- which she performs opposite seasoned actors John Schuck and Jo Anne Worley -- after competing against almost 90 other Annie wannabes and traveling to New York to audition three times.

"Annie, frankly, was very hard to find," says director-choreographer Robert Fitch, who created the role of villainous Rooster Hannigan in the original 1977 Broadway production and has subsequently directed and choreographed nine other productions.

He says he chose Heather not only on the basis of her "beautiful voice" and "intelligent" acting, but also because she possesses two qualities exhibited by previous Annies with whom he has worked (including five on Broadway). "Some of them played it like pretty little girls," he explains. "Andrea [McArdle, the original Annie] played it tough. Heather's kind of a combination of the pretty and the tough."

And leapin' lizards, if toughness isn't the aspect of Annie's character with which Heather says she identifies most.

But there's something else, too, something evident in her typical Gap-kid outfit of khaki-colored jeans and loose-fitting fisherman's sweater, and again in her little girl's bedroom with its canopy bed, troll dolls and photos chronicling three years with the

Severna Park Green Hornets lacrosse team. It's a quality of naturalness, genuineness or, as Fitch puts it, "realness," and it's one of the first things mentioned by the adults who've worked with her.

"For Annies, you're looking for kids who are not show-biz-y. They're not 'ta da!' They're not glitzy," the director explains. "That was the discovery [the show's creators] made originally -- that you had to believe they were real kids."

Admittedly, Heather now wants to be an actress when she grows up, but not long ago she thought it would be fun to be a TV news reporter and, besides trolls and lacrosse, she also has a thing about baseball cards. In fact, acting became an interest virtually by chance.

Perched on the piano bench in her family's living room a few days before rehearsals began in New York, Heather explained that two summers ago a neighborhood friend told her about an Annapolis Dinner Theater production of "Snow White." She went to the first rehearsal hoping to be an understudy.

"And the director said, 'Heather, I'd like to make you a permanent dwarf,' " her mother, Gale Soroka interjects.

"So," Heather pipes up, "I became Sneezy."

Three in show biz

A few months later, she was cast in the dinner theater's production of "A Christmas Carol," and, she continues, "The director said, 'I forgot to cast Peter Cratchit. Does anyone have a brother?' " So Heather's older brother Brad suddenly found himself in show business.

Now all three Soroka children -- Heather, 12-year-old Brad and 8-year-old Todd -- are in the business, represented by the Silver Spring-based agency, Camera Ready Kids, which supplies each child with a professional resume and head shot and, according to agency co-owner Susan Edwards, sends one or another young Soroka out to audition at least once a week.

"They're one of our busiest families," says Edwards, whose files include 200 area children. In Heather's case, the jobs have included voice-overs for commercials for WMAR-TV, print work for Time Life Books and National Geographic, educational and industrial videos and an appearance as an extra in the Warner Brothers movie, "One Hot Summer," to be released in 1993.

Heather's introduction to full-scale, professional theater came when director David H. Bell created the role of Melissa Cratchit for her in "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre in Washington last season. Her biggest role until now was, coincidentally, as the title character in another production of "Annie" -- the one currently running at the Burn Brae Dinner Theatre in Burtonsville. (The role at Burn Brae was double-cast, and the director was highly supportive of Heather's move onward and upward, according to her mother.)

Even before the national tour of "Annie" came along, being a "professional child" in addition to a full-time sixth-grader -- and A student -- at Severna Park Middle School might have seemed like a lot to ask of a 54-inch, 62-pound little girl. But Heather's mother and Camera Ready's Edwards insist it is all at her own bidding. "There's no mom pushing the kid here. She definitely loves it," Edwards says. "Whenever you even call for an audition, if she answers the phone, she's so excited."

A family effort

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