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BWW Exclusive: A History of ANNIE on Broadway and Beyond

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Annie Live! airs on NBC tonight, December 2, 2021.

BWW Exclusive: A History of ANNIE on Broadway and Beyond Tonight, NBC will air its sixth live musical production. Following in the footsteps of The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz, Hairspray, and Jesus Christ Superstar, the peacock network will be presenting Annie. Based on Harold Gray's comic strip titled Little Orphan Annie, this musical tells the story of a little orphan with equal measures of pluck and positivity who charms everyone's hearts, despite a next-to-nothing start in New York City in the year 1933. She is determined to find her parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of a New York City Orphanage run by the cruel, embittered Miss Hannigan. With the help of the other girls in the Orphanage, Annie escapes to the wondrous world of NYC, finds herself a new home and family in billionaire Oliver Warbucks, his personal secretary Grace Farrell, and a lovable mutt named Sandy.

Annie features a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Meehan had started out as a contributor of humor to the New Yorker before he eventually transitioned into writing for the theatre. Strouse was already a very prolific composer from having co-written different musicals such as Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy, "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman", and Applause. He also scored a few nonmusical films, including the 1967 classic, Bonnie & Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway & Warren Beatty. Meanwhile, Martin Charnin had originally studied art in college and had no training as an actor, singer, nor dancer. Though a week and a half after his graduation, he spotted an open call ad for this untried show in the New York Times and went up against about 2,000 other hopefuls. That show turned out to be West Side Story. After having made his main stem debut as a Jet named Big Deal in the original cast, Charnin eventually transitioned into writing lyrics for several musicals such as Hot Spot, La Strada, and Two By Two.

As for how the idea of doing a musical based on Harold Gray's comic strip came about? Charnin told The Guardian in 2016, "I guess when you're in the business of making musicals, you look for ideas, you look for source material anywhere. At that particular moment in time all of Dickens had been taken, it all had been musicalised. If I'd found it in a bubblegum wrapper I guess I'd have tried to get the rights to it. I read that book before I gave it away and ultimately ended up not giving it away, I was so taken by Harold Gray's original drawings."

Charnin approached Thomas Meehan in 1972 to write the book. At first, Meehan was skeptical about the offer, but he eventually accepted it after reading the strip. He then researched by rereading prints, but was unable to find any material that he felt could work for a musical other than the characters of Annie, Oliver Warbucks, and Sandy. As a result, Meehan decided to write his own story instead, which he had set during the Great Depression in New York City. It was inspired by the similarly downbeat era of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War going on at the time. Meehan saw Annie, the main character of the musical, as a 20th century American female version of titular orphans from classic Charles Dickens stories such as David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. The script was accepted by both Strouse and Charnin, although considerable material had to be trimmed out.

The musical was developed at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. Only 32 little girls auditioned for the production. An at the time 19-year-old apprentice carpenter at Goodspeed named Bill Berloni was given the task of finding the right dog to play Sandy, and train him. Kristen Vigard originally starred as Annie. The world premiere took place on August 10th, 1976. The out-of-town tryout received mixed reviews from critics. Producer Lewis Allen, who believed the show could be developed further, called in his friend, Mike Nichols, to help co-produce it and become an uncredited artistic advisor. After a week of performances, the creative team not only cut songs and replaced scenes, but Kristen was let go because they thought she felt too sweet for the role of a street smart orphan. So Andrea McArdle, who was already in the show as an orphan named Pepper, took over. Although Kristen was kept as a standby for the title role by the time the show made it to New York.

The original production opened on April 21st, 1977 at the Alvin (now Neil Simon) Theatre on Broadway to mostly rave reviews. It was directed by Martin Charnin and choreographed by Peter Gennaro. The rest of the cast included Reid Shelton as Oliver Warbucks, Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan, Sandy Faison as Grace Farell, Robert Fitch as Rooster Hannigan, Barbara Erwin as Lily St. Regis, Raymond Thorne as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Laurie Beechman as A Star to Be, and Danielle Brisebois as the littlest orphan, Molly.

On June 5th, 1977, the 31st Tony Awards were held at Broadway's Shubert Theatre, hosted by Jack Albertson, Beatrice Arthur, Buddy Ebsen, Damon Evans, Jean Stapleton, and Leslie Uggams, and broadcast on ABC. The nominees for Best Musical that year were Annie, Happy End, I Love My Wife, and Side by Side by Sondheim. Annie had a total of 10 nominations going into the night. It ended up winning 7 awards for Best Musical, Best Lead Actress in a Musical for Dorothy Loudon (where she managed to beat Andrea McArdle), Best Book of a Musical for Thomas Meehan, Best Original Score for Charles Strouse & Martin Charnin, Best Choreography for Peter Gennaro, Best Scenic Design for David Mitchell, and Best Costume Design for Theoni V. Aldridge.

Since then, the production ran for nearly six years after closing on January 2nd, 1983, with a total of 2,377 performances. Throughout the run, four more child actresses at the time such as Shelley Bruce, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Smith, and Alyson Kirk starred as the title character. Meanwhile, only one dog got play Sandy at every single performance, and its name was ironically Sandy. Numerous productions in many countries as well as national tours have been mounted all over the world. Martin Charnin went on to direct many of them over the years. "The fun of it for me is that every time I do it, I learn something new about it, and in theory every production that precedes the one I'm doing makes the one I'm doing the beneficiary of the stuff that I've learned. So it keeps growing, it keeps changing. But the most important thing from my standpoint is maintaining the root. One can say if it ain't broke, don't fix it." He also enjoyed watching productions by school and amateur groups because they tend to be true to his original vision. "They interpret it, they don't reinterpret it. If it loses its heart, if it loses its soul and it loses basically its story, then I can't watch it."

The success of the Broadway show led to Columbia Pictures winning the film rights from a bidding war with Paramount Pictures for $9,500,000, which at the time, was the most expensive for a stage musical. Originally, Thomas Meehan was set to write the screenplay with Peter Gennaro re-creating his choreography from the Broadway production. Then Ray Stark, who had previously produced the original stage and screen iterations of Funny Girl, came on board as producer despite not even liking the source material. John Huston, who had previously helmed 1941's The Maltese Falcon, 1948's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which he won an Oscar for), and 1951's The African Queen, was hired to direct despite having no background in musicals at all. Carol Sobieski, who had previously written for different television shows such as Mr. Novak, Peyton Place, Mod Squad, and Paper Moon, was hired to write the screenplay. Joe Layton, who had previously choreographed the original Broadway productions of Once Upon a Mattress and The Sound of Music before going on to direct No Strings, George M!, Dear World, Two By Two, Barnum, and Bring Back Birdie, was hired as choreographer.

Auditions for the title role spanned about two years, 22 cities, 8,000 interviews, and 70 child actresses. Aileen Quinn, who had previously served as a swing in the original Broadway production, was cast as Annie. The rest of the cast included Albert Finney as Warbucks, Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan, Ann Reinking as Grace, Tim Curry as Rooster, Bernadette Peters as Lily, Edward Herrmann as F.D.R., and Geoffrey Holder as Punjab, a character from the original comic strip absent from the stage musical, serving as Warbucks' Indian bodyguard.

The movie took a whole lot of liberties with the source material. Among them were the setting being more around the summer as opposed to Christmas time and a climax that involved Warbucks organizing a citywide search for Annie. Not to mention that five new songs were introduced such as 'Dumb Dog', 'Sandy', 'Let's Go to the Movies', 'Sign', and 'We Got Annie' (which was previously in an early draft of the musical). Meanwhile, about six from the stage version weren't utlizied such as 'We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover', 'N.Y.C.', ''You Won't Be an Orphan for Long', 'Something was Missing', 'Annie', and 'A New Deal for Christmas'. Even though Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin were hired to write new songs, they and Thomas Meehan were not allowed on set, nor to talk to any of the cast members, until they threatened to tell the New York Times.

This wasn't the first time that a feature film adaptation of a stage musical deviated significantly from its source material (nor was it the last time). There have been several that took the right liberties to the movie's benefit like 1961's West Side Story, 1965's The Sound of Music, 1968's Oliver!, 1972's Cabaret, and 1978's Grease. Though there are others that took the wrong liberties to the movie's detriment like 1978's The Wiz and 1985's A Chorus Line. Therefore, 1982's Annie falls more into the latter group.

This adaptation was released in movie theaters nationwide on May 21st, 1982. It ended up grossing over $57,000,000 at the worldwide box office on a $50,000,000 budget. The film earned 2 Academy Award nominations for Best Art Design (which it lost to Gandhi) and now retired category of Best Adapted Score (which it lost to Victor/Victoria). Although Annie also received 5 Razzie Award nominations (including Worst Picture of the Year), winning one for Worst Supporting Actress for Aileen Quinn. It currently has a 57% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 28 reviews) with the critical consensus stating: "John Huston proves an odd choice to direct, miring Annie in a sluggish, stagebound mess of an adaptation, but the kids are cute and the songs are memorable."

In a 1996 interview with the Hartford Courant, Martin Charnin revealed how critical he was of the film. He said "The movie distorted what this musical was and we were culpable for the reason that we did not exercise any kind of creative control because we sold the rights for a considerable amount of money." Charnin went on to mention even further that Huston, who had never directed a musical before, and producer Ray Stark made major changes in the film that destroyed the essence of Annie. Warbucks, played by Finney, "was an Englishman who screamed", Hannigan, played by Burnett, was "a man-crazy drunk", and Annie was "cute-ed up". Worse, the emotional relationship between Annie and Warbucks was distorted. They even downplayed the hit song 'Tomorrow' because "Stark thought it was corny."

There were a couple attempts at a sequel to the original stage musical. The first under the title of Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in December of 1989. After opening to very disastrous reviews, extensive reworking of the script and score proved to be pointless, so the project was abandoned as a result. The second attempt under the title of Annie Warbucks had a different plot and score. The musical began right where the original left off. It was developed at the Goodspeed Opera House, and subsequently opened at Off-Broadway's Variety Arts Theatre on August 9th, 1993, where it ran for 200 performances after closing on January 30th, 1994. The original cast included Kathryn Zaremba as Annie, Harve Presnell as Warbucks (a role he previously played in the original production), and Donna McKechnie as Sheila Kelly. The producers considered moving the show to Broadway, and they secured a $2,500,000 investment from an investor to make that happen. However, they discovered that they couldn't make the transfer in time to be eligible for Tony Awards consideration, which was a big part of why they wanted to move in the first place. According to the rules at the time, a show had to transfer to a Tony-eligible theatre within 7 ½ months of its original opening to qualify for nominations. So therefore, the investor ended up pulling out, which pretty much put an end to those plans.

On November 18th, 1995, a sequel to the 1982 film adaptation premiered as a TV movie on ABC. No one from the first installment reprised their roles. The cast included Ashley Johnson as Annie and George Hearn as Warbucks along with Joan Collins and Ian McDiarmid as brand new characters. Even though a reprise of 'Tomorrow' is sung at the end of the film, the overall product was not a musical.

A 20th anniversary revival opened on March 26th, 1997 at the Martin Beck (now Al Hirschfeld) Theatre on Broadway. It was once again directed by Martin Charnin with Peter Gennaro returning as choreographer. Over 2,000 little girls from all over the country auditioned for the production through a highly publicized contest sponsored by Macy's. In fact, one of the little girls who tried out was Andrea McArdle's daughter, Alexis Kalehoff, but she didn't end up making it past the first round. The title role was originally won by a native of Philadelphia named Joanna Pacitti. The rest of the cast included Conrad John Schuck as Warbucks (a role he previously played in the original production), Nell Carter as Miss Hannigan, Colleen Dunn as Grace, Jim Ryan as Rooster, and Karen Byers-Blackwell as Lily. Raymond Thorne reprised his role as F.D.R. from the original Broadway production. In the ensemble was this young girl who at the time was only 22 years old. Among the roles she got to play on her track were a dog catcher, Cecille, Ronnie Boylan, and A Star to Be. Though little did anyone know that she literally was a star to be herself as she eventually went on to get starring roles on the Great White Way, even winning 2 Tony Awards in the process for her performances in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes. That young girl was Sutton Foster.

An original song titled 'You Make Me Happy' was written just for Nell Carter, which was a duet between Miss Hannigan and Grace in Act I. The production began an 8-city tour in Houston, Texas before eventually making it to New York. Although while they were in Boston, Joanna Pacitti was battling bronchitis, so the creative team tried out some of the orphans for a new understudy before eventually settling on Brittny Kissinger, who was previously playing July. They loved her so much that they ended up firing Joanna. Brittny also at the time became the youngest actress to have ever played the title role. Meanwhile, Joanna's parents filed a lawsuit against Macy's because they felt she won the role fair and square. Although her removal from the production received national attention and she got so many audition offers after that. Joanna went on to star in a production of Annie directed by Terrence Mann at North Carolina Theatre in July of 1997.

As for the first Broadway revival, it wasn't well reviewed by critics and only received 1 Tony Award nomination for Best Revival of a Musical (which it lost to the Walter Bobbie-helmed staging of Chicago). The production ended up running for 239 performances after closing on October 19th of that year.

In wake of the success of The Wonderful World of Disney's 1997 TV movie adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, ABC began work on a television film iteration of Annie produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. The two of them planned to rectify the errors of the 1982 version by having their adaptation be much more faithful to the source material. Irene Mecchi, who had previously co-written a few Disney animated films such as 1994's The Lion King (she went on to receive a Tony nomination for co-writing the book for its subsequent Broadway stage adaptation), 1996's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and 1997's Hercules, was hired to write the script. As for who ended up directing...

Rob Marshall had started out working on Broadway as a performer in the original casts of The Rink and The Mystery of Edwin Drood in addition to appearing in the 1983 revival of Zorba as well as being a former Munkustrap in Cats. He eventually transitioned into working as a choreographer on Kiss of the Spider Woman as well as revivals of She Loves Me, Damn Yankees, Company, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He also worked a bit on a couple of television movies, which included Cinderella. Zadan & Meron were so impressed by Rob's work throughout the process there (saying he acted like a director), that they both went to him to direct and choreograph Annie. At first, he turned it down, saying "I'm not a director, I'm a choreographer. I don't know why you're even offering me this movie. I don't know anything about film." When Rob Marshall finally agreed to direct it, Disney executives didn't want him to do the film. They said "Annie is too valuable a property. We're not gonna give it to a guy who's never directed a movie." Yet, because Zadan and Meron both really believed in him, they told the executives in response "Then we won't produce it." They knew at the time that since Cinderella was so huge, the last thing Disney wanted to do was another musical not produced by them. So they kept calling saying "Let's go over a list of directors", but Zadan & Meron said no because they really wanted Rob Marshall to do it. So Disney eventually conceded and allowed him to direct and choreograph.

The cast included Alicia Morton as Annie, Victor Garber as Warbucks, Kathy Bates as Miss Hannigan, Audra McDonald as Grace, Alan Cumming as Rooster, Kristin Chenoweth as Lily, Ernie Sabella as Bundles McCloskey, and future Modern Family star Sarah Hyland as Molly. Not to mention that Andrea McArdle got to make a cameo appearance as A Star to Be during the 'N.Y.C.' sequence. Songs from the original stage musical that didn't make it into this adaptation were 'We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover', 'You Won't Be an Orphan for Long', 'Tomorrow (Cabinet Reprise)', 'Annie', and 'A New Deal for Christmas'.

The TV version of Annie debuted on November 7th, 1999. It was a huge hit in the ratings as over 26 million people tuned in, making it the second-most watched Disney film to air on ABC behind Cinderella. The following year, Annie earned 12 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, including Outstanding Television Movie, winning 2 accolades for Outstanding Choreography (Rob Marshall) and Outstanding Music Direction (Paul Bogaev). In fact, one of the viewers who tuned in during Annie's premiere was Harvey Weinstein, who at the time was running Miramax Films. He was so impressed with it, he called up Rob Marshall about directing a movie adaptation of the musical Rent. Marshall used that opportunity to give his pitch for another stage-to-screen adaptation Miramax had in development for a while, which was Chicago. After Marshall was quickly hired, he brought both Zadan and Meron on board to have them right by his side. The movie version of Chicago not only ended up becoming a sensation, but it was also among a few titles in the early 2000s that marked the beginning of a resurgence of Hollywood musicals on the big screen. The film ended up winning 6 Academy Awards and became the first movie musical since 1968's Oliver! to win the Oscar for Best Picture (as well as the most recent).

In 2003, Trinity Repertory Company in Rhode Island did a production of Annie directed by Amanda Dehnert. She approached the story as Annie's newfound happy home turns out to be a dream and she sadly finds herself back in the orphanage by the end. Dehnert's mission was to emphasize the poverty experienced during the period as well as the hardships caused by the Hoover administration. This was felt from the show's opening, which featured a stage populated by homeless people, dancing to a mournful version of 'Tomorrow.' Martin Charnin attended a performance, was not impressed by the re-interpretation of the ending, and asked that it be changed to better reflect the "true spirit of the show." He said to the New York Post during that run "They told me they thought Annie was a classic, like Shakespeare, so they could re-interpret it. I told them there's one difference: Shakespeare is dead; I'm not." In response, Denhert admitted that she may have taken too many liberties with the story and the dream ending was dropped from the production as a result.

A 35th anniversary revival opened on November 8th, 2012 at the Palace Theatre on Broadway. It was directed by James Lapine, the three-time Tony-winning book writer behind Into the Woods, Falsettos, and Passion, with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, who at the time was a previous Tony winner for his work on the original Broadway production of In the Heights. Lilla Crawford starred as Annie, which she won following a nationwide search, where she beat out over 5,000 little girls who auditioned. The rest of the opening night cast included Anthony Warlow as Warbucks, Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan, Brynn O'Malley as Grace, Clarke Thorell as Rooster, J. Elaine Marcos as Lily, and Merwin Foard as F.D.R. The production incorporated more realism by having the characters speak with thick New York accents (with the exception of Grace as she was portrayed as a Brit) as well as voice over narrations detailing what was going on in the Great Depression back in 1933.

The production received mixed reviews from critics and only 1 Tony Award nomination for Best Revival of a Musical (which it lost to the Diane Paulus-helmed staging of Pippin). Replacements throughout the run included future Stranger Things star Saide Sink as Annie, Ron Raines as Warbucks, and Jane Lynch as Miss Hannigan, who was followed by Faith Prince. The first big job Lilla Crawford managed to get after her run in the show was the role of Little Red Ridinghood in the Rob Marshall-directed film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine's Into the Woods. The revival ended up running for 487 performances after closing on January 5th, 2014.

When he was interviewed by BroadwayWorld later that year, Martin Charnin expressed his thoughts on the production, saying "That was a take on it that I did not specifically approve of, but I know that in the final analysis they did what they did and we tried to make some changes - there were some really good performances in it and some good moments, but it just wasn't Annie. It was like an imitation of it - a copy or something. Who knows?! Whatever it was, it wasn't the original - and the original is really what I pride myself on being the keeper of the flame of."

The revival was originally announced to go on tour, but that got scrapped in favor of a non-equity production directed by Martin Charnin. Ahead of the tour's launch in the fall of 2014, Charnin told BroadwayWorld that "the whole point of this tour is for me to help reconnect the show to the original version of it out there; I don't want there to be anything out there that reflects any of the so-called changes that have been made to it over the course of the years."

On December 19th, 2014, a new film adaptation of Annie was released in movie theaters nationwide by Columbia Pictures. It was produced by Will Smith along with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jay-Z, who previously did a cover of the song, 'It's the Hard Knock Life.' Originally, this movie was set up as a vehicle for Will & Jada's daughter, Willow Smith, but was replaced by Quvenzhané Wallis, who at the time was fresh off of an Oscar nomination for her starring role in 2012's Beasts of the Southern Wild. Will Gluck, who had previously helmed 2009's Fired Up!, 2010's Easy A, and 2011's Friends with Benefits, was hired to direct. Gluck also co-wrote the screenplay with Aline Brosh McKenna, who is best known for writing 2006's The Devil Wears Prada.

The rest of the cast included Jamie Foxx as Will Stacks (a modification of Oliver Warbucks), Cameron Diaz (in her final film role before subsequently retiring from acting) as Miss Hannigan, Rose Byrne as Grace, and Bobby Cannavale as an original character named Guy Danlily. Not to mention that celebrity cameos included Patricia Clarkson, Michael J. Fox, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Bobby Moynihan, Rihanna, and Sia. The biggest difference this adaptation had from the stage musical was that the plot was updated from the Great Depression to the present day.

The 2014 version ended up grossing over $136,000,000 at the worldwide box office on a $65,000,000 budget. It went on to win the Razzie Award for Worst Remake, Rip-Off, or Sequel. This movie currently has a 28% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 162 reviews) with the critical consensus stating: "The new-look Annie hints at a progressive take on a well-worn story, but smothers its likable cast under clichés, cloying cuteness, and a distasteful materialism." What Martin Charnin told The Guardian regarding his thoughts on this particular adaptation, "they brought it into the year 2014 in order to make it something that it really isn't. We wrote a Depression musical and the whole idea was that those doldrums and problems very much in evidence before Franklin Roosevelt created the New Deal is what the subtext of the play is all about. So when you take it out, you're cutting the fourth wheel off the wagon. It doesn't work."

When Martin Charnin was asked by BroadwayWorld if he'd be open to a live presentation of Annie following NBC's 2013 live production of The Sound of Music, his response was "Doing Annie in that manner? Well, I don't think that's in the cards for at least another 5 or 10 years - until then, it won't happen." On May 12th, 2021, NBC announced that for their first live television musical since Jesus Christ Superstar back in 2018, they'll be presenting Annie for the holiday season. Bob Greenblatt and Neil Meron are producing with a creative team that consists of director Lear deBessonet, live TV director Alex Rudzinski, choreographer Sergio Trujillo, musical director Stephen Oremus, scenic designer Jason Sherwood, and costume designer Emilio Sosa.

BWW Exclusive: A History of ANNIE on Broadway and Beyond

The production stars 12-year-old Celina Smith as Annie, Harry Connick, Jr. as Warbucks, Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan, Nicole Sherzinger as Grace, Tituss Burgess as Rooster, Megan Hilty as Lily, Alan Toy as F.D.R., Felice Kakaletris as Molly, Cate Elefante as Kate, Sophie Knapp as July, Tessa Frascogna as Tessie, Arwen Monzon-Sanders as Duffy, and Audrey Cymone as Pepper.

Jane Krakowski was originally cast as Lily St. Regis, but ended up leaving the production three weeks ago due to a breakthrough case of COVID-19 while working on a separate project in Ireland. So Megan Hilty has taken over. This is her second time playing the role after having previously done it at the Hollywood Bowl back in 2018. Alan Toy is the first actor to play the role of Franklin Roosevelt while personally having the same disability as F.D.R. himself. Andrea McArdle was originally set to play Eleanor Roosevelt, but departed two weeks ago due to a family matter.

The show will be broadcast in front of a live audience at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage, New York. I hope everyone has a great time tuning into the telecast tonight! But no matter what happens, please remember one thing: The sun will come out tomorrow.


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