Megan Fischer does not have to wait for tomorrow. For her, the sun has come out today.
The 12-year-old singer and actor stars as the redheaded title character in Peter Rothstein's gorgeous production of "Annie" at the Children's Theatre. It is a big role for the all-American seventh-grader at Oak View Middle School in Andover.
Fischer, who alternates the title character with Shawnee Elliott of Denver, plays Annie with authority and spark, impressing audiences and creative types alike with her clear, forward singing and her knack for finding Annie's spunk and optimism.
"Megan Fischer is a remarkable young talent and a sweet kid," said director Rothstein, who selected both Fischer and Elliott from an open audition last October at the Mall of America.
"Singing is my hobby and extracurricular activity," Fischer said last week before rehearsal. "It's so much fun."
In "Annie," Fischer starts at the top of her game, belting "Tomorrow" stirringly and with a confidence that belies her age. The biggest role of her stage career, "Annie" is something that she and her family celebrate. She turns 13 on June 12, closing night for the show.
Still, the regimen of singing in musical theater worries her vocal coach, who said that she is also very proud of Megan.
"I fret that she might get injured," said Judy Bender, who has been Fischer's voice teacher for the past year. "Opera singers sign contracts so that they will perform only every other night. Doing a show like this is not a healthy vocal endeavor, especially for a young singer. For Megan, it's wonderful. But for her voice, I'll be glad when it's over."
An open call
It was Bender who first heard about the auditions for "Annie," an open call held last year at the Mall of America. She encouraged Fischer to join the hundreds of other potential starlets trying out. Six performers, including the alternating leads, were tapped for the production at that casting call, the first time the Children's Theatre has ever held auditions at the Mall of America.
"It's proved to be very fruitful," said Michael Harryman, director of marketing and communications at the Children's Theatre. "Sometimes kids may feel intimidated by the thought of auditioning for the Children's Theatre, so the mall allows us to get kids like Megan, who skips about 15 steps in the theater process. It's a perfect Cinderella story."
At the audition, Fischer sang "Tomorrow," and "felt really good about it," she said.
Three weeks later, Fischer was called back for another audition. She has been discovering her character ever since.
"When I first got the role, I thought Annie was just a happy kid," she said. "But she's tough, very loving and can be sad at times. And she's a smart cookie."
Fischer's suburban home is far from the dreary orphanage in "Annie." She sometimes plays with her older brother, an Andover High School freshman who's into football and lacrosse. Her mom and dad are, respectively, a special education teacher and a steamfitter.
Fischer said that she constructed the character of Annie by working with director Rothstein to imagine how Annie would feel at each moment of her journey.
"It's fun to get into her skin," said Fischer, whose speech is peppered with "awesome," "cool" and many other colloquialisms of kids her age.
While "Annie" is her biggest role to date, Fischer has been steadily building a résumé over the past few years. She got her start at Zion Lutheran in Anoka, the family church, where she sang. She later was in the company of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" at the Ordway Center as well as the ensemble for "Christmas Schooner" at the History Theatre.
Now she is at a critical stage in her development, with her talent being ratified in a starring role on a major stage. She does not know if she wants to make it a career.
"To say she's going to be a major star, I don't know about that," said Bender. "She has the talent and personality for it, but that's something Megan and her parents have to decide."