Revisiting her roots

Former Broadway Annie holds meet at greet after Tiger Theatre Company production


Sydney Watts

Shelley Bruce gives senior Aris Hines her autograph at her meet and greet. Bruce was the second actress to play Annie on Broadway.

Story by Stephanie Jumper, Editor-In-Chief

Several little girls in dirt-stained gowns gather to shake hands with adoring fans after belting for Broadway audiences. Each child is clearly talented for even stepping foot on the stage, but for whatever reason, a younger Muhammad Ali was most interested in greeting a specific orphan actress. He swiftly stands up to a preteen Shelley Bruce, dips her for a moment and plants a kiss on the cheek, leaving her in a starstruck state of mind.

Meeting some of the ‘70s most famed celebrities was only one of the several opportunities during Bruce’s time on “Annie” on Broadway. Bruce held a meet and greet on Nov. 5 after Tiger Theatre Company’s production of “Annie.” She first landed a part in the play at age 10 as Broadway’s original Kate the orphan, but two years later she was promoted as the second ever Broadway Annie.

“Taking over the role was a lot of fun, and it was a lot of work,” Bruce said. “I had to remember that I was on stage most of the time. It wasn’t ‘come on stage, go off for a while.’ It was a lot more responsibility to get used to.”

Part of the fun of Bruce’s experience was that she was joined on stage by other children her age. She was friends with Annie’s original actress, Andrea McArdle, even before they were involved in the musical.

“I was very lucky to be in a show with that many other girls and not just be me with a bunch of adults,” Bruce said. “Even the adults just adored all the kids [and] interacted with them. There were some hard shows, hard interviews. But the overall picture was a really great experience.”

One of Bruce’s finest moments was performing at the Tony Awards as Kate. The party after the event was an opportunity for her to meet some of Broadway’s biggest names.

“After the awards show, there’s a big gala, so we got to meet a number of wonderful actors,” Bruce said. “One was more gracious than the next. That was probably one of the most amazing times.”

No matter how much she relished her moments in the spotlight, life commanded Bruce to put acting on pause when she was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 16. When she was able to again, she worked on a few different Off-Broadway productions.

“When I got out of the hospital, I guess to prove to myself I could still do it, I did some acting,” Bruce said. “Then, I got married. I had a family. I didn’t act much after that.”

Although Bruce is currently an office manager and a finance assistant, she still involves herself in theater when not in her day job. She once coached a production of “Annie” in Atlanta and attends showings of the musical to this day.

“It’s strange every time I see a production because, in my head, this production is my production,” Bruce said. “It’s something I was there at the inception of. I’ll be like, ‘Why did they do that?’ In the end, it’s always enjoyable to see someone else’s interpretation on things that were written so many years ago.”

Although she may not get quite as up close and personal to fans as Muhammad Ali, Bruce is now the adult at a variety of events for children to admire. Bruce was a special guest at Nov. 5’s production of “Annie” on the same evening as her meet and greet, and she was ecstatic to watch Tiger Theatre Company’s twist on the show she remembers so fondly. 

“It was a wonderful evening seeing a production where the cast not only learned their lines but their characters as well,” Bruce said. “Add to that the production staff who stayed true to and honored the original production, and you have a recipe for pure joy.”