(1977) based on Harold Gray
's "Little Orphan Annie
" comic strip.
An orphan, a milllionaire, a dog... a hit!
Playwright Thomas Meehan thought it was a bad idea. Composer Charles Strouse (Bye Bye Birdie) thought it was a bad idea. Lyricist Martin Charnin thought adapting the comic strip into a musical was a great idea, and eventually won Meehan and Strouse over (It took a while though. Charnin and Strouse started work in 1971). Mike Nichols led the team of producers who took the show to Broadway in 1977. Charnin would direct.
Annie opened at the Alvin Theatre on April 21, 1977 and ran for 2,377 performances in New York. Andrea McArdle played the original Annie. Dorothy Loudon played Miss Hannigan and Reid Shelton was Oliver Warbucks. (Sarah Jessica Parker would join the cast as an orphan in 1978, and take over the lead role in 1979.)
The show won 7 Tony Awards. In addition to Loudon (who beat out McArdle for Best Actress in a Musical), the show won for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Costume Design, Best Scenic Design, and Best Choreography (Peter Gennaro). 20 years later, a new production of the show on Broadway would win the Tony for "Best Revival of a Musical."
It should be the soppiest, most sentimental musical that even that renowned sugar-processing plant, Broadway, has produced. After all, ponder the plot. Li'l orphan Annie, the seraph with the all-red curls and the all-rose philosophy, is rescued from New York's nastiest orphanage by Oliver Warbucks, a zillionaire so powerful that Presidents rush from Washington to his Yuletide parties. Not only does he end up adopting her and her bashful mutt: under her 11-year-old influence he joins FDR in a rousing chorus of "a New Deal for Christmas". Yuk. Order ten gross of sickbags. Bring on Sondheim, bring on Herod, bring on anyone likely to take a tough view of savvy tots and rich men bearing gifts. Yet, sap that I was, I enjoyed Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin's musical when it first hit London 20 years ago, and, sap that I still must be, I enjoyed its latest revival.
--Benedict Nightingale, The Times
It's a Hard Knock Life
The plot: It's the Great Depression. New York City. 11-year-old Annie, an adorable moppet who says adorable things and leads other orphans in song, longs for her parents to rescue her from the Municipal Orphanage where she lives under the tyrannical Agatha Hannigan, scrubbing floors. Annie runs away, adopts a lovable dog, which she names Sandy, and tours New York City before stumbling across a shantytown. The cops find her, return her to the orphanage. Just then, billionaire Oliver Warbucks sends his secretary to bring an orphan over to the house for Christmas. Guess who gets to go?
Warbucks is smitten with Annie, and wants to adopt her, but he must first deal with her desire to find her real parents. Warbucks announces over the radio that there's a $50,000 reward for reuniting Annie with her parents. Hannigan convinces her brother and his moll to pose as the parents, collect the reward, and then murder the girl. Meanwhile, Warbucks takes Annie to meet a depressed FDR. She cheers him up with a song (The second reprise of "Tomorrow") and inspires him to create the New Deal. With a family heirloom and a birth certificate from Hannigan, the phony parents arrive to claim Annie. In the nick of time FDR arrives, who proves, thanks to the investigative arm of the Federal Government, that Annie's parents are indeed dead, the Hannigans are phonies, and that Warbucks can adopt Annie and dog after all. Happy ending.
In 1982, the movie version of the musical was released featuring Albert Finney, Aileen Quinn, and Carol Burnett. Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, and Ann Reinking rounded out the cast. The film was directed by John Huston and brought in a respectable $57 million at the box office. However, as it took $50 million to bring to the screen (the rights to the show were $9 million itself, a record at the time), it was considered a disaster. It didn't help that in addition to cutting entire beloved parts of the show to fit into a two hour film that Columbia Pictures insisted on charging an outrageous $6 for adult tickets.
Disney's 1999 made for television version was directed by Rob Marshall (Cabaret), and featured a strong Broadway-experienced cast. Alicia Morton in the lead role was supported out with Kathy Bates as Ms. Hannigan and Victor Garber as Daddy Warbucks. Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cummings, and Andrea McArdle herself round out the cast.
Impact of Annie
is by no means one of the great American musicals. Although the tune
s are lively and memorable enough that the audience comes out of the show singing, the songs have not entered the popular music canon (Jay-Z
's "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
" notwithstanding). The story lacks the depth of better loved shows, as do much of Charnin's lyrics ("Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, you're always a day away/ Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, you're always... a... day... aaaa--- waaaaay.")
continues to be popular, especially in local and community productions
. Why? Two words: kids, and dogs. Either one can win over an audience. Add some peppy songs, and they're unstoppable.
The show did have three major impacts:
1. Introduced a new generation to live theatre. The family-friendly show brought middle-class families with kids into the theatre to see the national tour (in the process postponing the death of American theatre by another 30 years).
2. Inspired a new generation of young actors. Ask any Broadway actress today who grew up in the 1970's as to what inspired her to get onstage and likely you'll hear it was a production of Annie. Parts for children in community theatre are rare, and usually unrewarding. This show is a proving ground for child performers.
3. Economics: Even with orchestra seats selling at $16 in 1977, Annie grossed over $100 million. (It had cost $650,000 to mount). The show fueled new investment in Broadway musicals in the 1980s (although, only Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical spectacles would see anywhere near that return).
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow
As the show was such a cash cow
, a sequel
was talked about for years. Finally, in 1989, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge
(I'm not kidding) opened in Washington, DC. It was an abysmal failure. Plans for the Broadway show were cancelled. The script was rewritten, with Agatha Hannigan being removed altogether, and the show re-cast. Annie Warbucks
was the official sequel, which made it to New York (Off-Broadway
) in 1993, but only ran 200 performances. Meehan would go on to redeem himself by writing the books for the popular Tony winners The Producers
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