by Morey Storck
The inspiration for Annie as a Broadway musical came from a chance reading of a book entitled Little Orphan Annie: Her Life and Hard Times, based on Harold Gray’s classic American comic strip. That reader was Martin Charnin (lyricist), who eventually persuaded Charles Strouse (music) and Thomas Meehan (book) to turn the classic into a Depression-Era musical for Broadway. It was not to be a story about cartoon characters, but rather “about a child of indomitable spirit, lost and wandering; a metaphor for courage, morality, innocence and optimism,” according to Charnin. It was written in the 1970’s. Nixon resigned his office in 1974. New York City was in financial crisis. Something uplifting was needed.
These three collaborators started work on the project in February 1972, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1976 when it had a 10-week tryout at the Goodspeed Opera House. At one performance, as luck would have it, Mike Nichols happened to be in the audience. He became the musical’s chief enthusiast and its lead producer. After an additional five weeks of performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, it finally opened on Broadway in April 1977.
That year, Annie won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book. It closed in January 1983, after 2,377 performances.
Annie is perhaps best known for the feel-good, Broadway anthem “Tomorrow.” After the show opened, the whole country was singing: “The sun‘ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun…” It’s full of yearning and optimism, and fits the show-stopping voice of Peyton Ella at the Westchester Broadway Theatre perfectly (played on Sundays by Kaylin Hedges). Other songs from the show, though not as memorable as sing-along classics, are nevertheless showstoppers in this overall production.
“It’s the Hard Knock Life,” sung by Annie and the orphans (most of whom were cast locally), is one of those show-stoppers; it’s loud and brassy and expresses their opinion of life in the orphanage. But, “Easy Street” is sensational. Sung by Susann Fletcher (Miss Hannigan), Adam Roberts (Rooster Hannigan), and Aubrey Sinn (Lily St. Regis), it literally rocks the house! Ms. Fletcher is also amusing and expressive in her rendition of “Little Girls.” Michael DeVries (Oliver Warbucks), is delightful in his duet with Annie performing “I Don’t Need Anything But You.”
Another definite audience-pleaser is “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” sung at the NBC Radio Studio with cheerleader gusto by Carl Hulden (Bert Healy), the Boylan Sisters (Rochelle Smith, Jesse Lynn Harte and Kelly Black), and the “The Hour of Smiles” Family. It’s a Depression Era, pep-up song to the nation from FDR’s New Deal.
The song comes just before the second act curtain and is intended to leave the audience with an up-beat, optimistic, big Broadway high. It does. Though Annie often foregoes a storyline of serious social significance, it certainly does reward the audience with two hours of joyful musical escape. Something we all need in any era.