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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured

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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#1
Posted: 7/20/19 at 10:00pm

So, I realize this is maybe the most trivial of trivial subjects, but starting with the Rob Marshall version of Annie (and maybe it had already started occurring in stage productions before that), I note there's zero attempt to connect Annie and Oliver Warbucks in the show with the characters as they had appeared in Little Orphan Annie. Her newhairstyle in the final scene now is really in kind of a Shirley Temple fashion, not the finger-in-the-light-socket Annie fro, she's wearing a red dress, but not designed in the famous, rudimentary style of the comic strip character. Warbucks doesn't wear the tux with diamond stick pin, either, as I recall. On You Tube recently, I saw McArdle telling the newest Annie "Your wig and dress are so much better than mine was!" But she girl isn't made up to look anything like Little Orphan Annie, the way McArdle was.

This means there's a big change in the stylistic structure of the show. Originally it was for the show to start in an almost Dickensian manner and turn into a comic strip by the end of the performance (with little comic book touches throughout--like the car Annie and Grace take from the orphanage--and the tiny version of the car seen way upstage during the scene change). Suddenly at the end, we have the famous comic book characters for the first time, looking like their comic book selves. 

This might sound like some kind of old guy (and I'm not young) complaining that things aren't as they were back in my day, but I wasn't a Little Orphan Annie fan as a kid who learned about the musical, I was a musical theater fan as a kid who only discovered Little Orphan Annie through the musical. 

Still, I feel like something is lost now. The show sort of doesn't seem have a reason for being. And when Annie finally says "Leaping Lizards" in the final scene, it's odd and sticks out because the phrase doesn't fit into the new context (she hasn't become Little Orphan Annie). 

Yet obviously productions still capture the hearts of successive generations. The show still works. Wondered if anyone noticed or cared about this other than me.

Updated On: 7/20/19 at 10:00 PM
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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#2
Posted: 7/20/19 at 11:36pm
I imagine it’s because, forty years later, that doesn’t matter as much anymore; Annie the musical has so subsumed Annie the comic strip character that attempts to call back to that stylistic crudeness would now seem out of place.
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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#3
Posted: 7/21/19 at 12:37am

Not sure what's crude about it, but I'm relieved someone actually bothered to read my topic. :)

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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#4
Posted: 7/21/19 at 5:36am

I enjoyed reading your post. When the original production of Annie opened on Broadway, the comic strip was still in circulation. There was something tied-in that the audience could relate to. I remember the comic strip appearing in my local newspaper prior to seeing the show, but I don't think I read it per se. 

You have such an amazing eye for detail to notice even Warbucks' stick pin was gone in the most recent Broadway revival. I definitely remember the miniature limousine that pulled up in front of the mansion. To this day, David Mitchell's sets remain one of my favorites. I was absolutely fascinated with them.

The original production was my first Broadway show in January 1978 about a month before Andrea McArdle left the show.

I didn't care much for the recent revival. Every production of Annie I've seen since the original, fails to live up to the magic I experienced that day in 1978. I saw the original production a total of 4 times and once on the West End.

Hey Dottie! Did your colleagues enjoy the cake even though your cat decided to sit on it? ~GuyfromGermany
Updated On: 7/21/19 at 05:36 AM
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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#5
Posted: 7/21/19 at 1:36pm

Thank you so much for the compliment. In my directing class in college, the teacher pointed out that scene change of Mitchell's as a great method of transitioning from scene to scene. 

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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#6
Posted: 7/21/19 at 2:03pm

Love seeing the warm mentions here of David Mitchell, the brilliant set designer of the original ANNIE. I worked for David as an asst set designer starting in 1980 off and on for about 10 years. The day I arrived at his brownstone on West 88th St (he always called it the brownstone that ANNIE bought), he and his team were popping champagne celebrating their 2nd Tony win for BARNUM. The show I would draft on that summer, CAN-CAN, would earn David a 3rd nom a year later.

Those were halcyon days at the crowded studio on W 88th. The 1/2” models of BARNUM and ANNIE (and then CANCAN and FOXFIRE) had pride of place in the oak living room where we would hold our director’s meetings and bidding sessions (when the set shops all got the specs to bid on the show’s sets at the same time). All nighters were the rule till David’s wife Emily put her foot down and forbade them in the interest of our health. But each week, that living room played host to Joe Layton or Arthur Laurents or Lincoln Kirstien (NYC Ballet) or Herb Ross (the original director of BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRES).

Over the decade David’s projects veered from famous hits to infamous flops (LEGS DIAMOND, AINT BROADWAY GRAND) but his artfulness and inspiration never flagged. His artistry is missed to this day.

Updated On: 7/21/19 at 02:03 PM
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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#7
Posted: 7/21/19 at 3:49pm

To say I'm a little envious of your luck wouldn't cover the half of it. :)

What I'd give to see those models!

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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#8
Posted: 7/21/19 at 4:20pm

Can anyone provide a link to photos that showcase the original Broadway set? I've done several Google searches and I keep coming up with photos from the revival, or photos from the original that are mostly just close-ups of actors. 

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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#9
Posted: 7/21/19 at 4:43pm

The show still works, for sure. I've music directed enough productions to last a lifetime at this point. I do think the shift to more cartoonish elements towards the end of the show--the disguises, Christmas decorations, FDR showing up to save the day--aren't always leaned into as heavily as they could be to bring out the humor in Rooster, Lily, and Hannigan. They're villains, but they're meant to be funny villains. 

The challenge now is to keep the show from becoming too earnest at the end. That final scene is quite sad before it gets to the happily ever after and it's hard to find the right balance. Shifting to the known comic strip designs softened the blow in a wonderful, visual way.

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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#10
Posted: 7/21/19 at 7:36pm

JBroadway said: "Can anyone provide a link to photos that showcase the original Broadway set? I've done several Google searches and I keep coming up with photos from the revival, or photos from the original that are mostly just close-ups of actors."

This is a pretty nifty collection. 

http://www.playbill.com/article/40-years-later-celebrating-annie-on-broadway-and-beyond

And this.

http://www.playbill.com/article/look-back-at-andrea-mcardle-and-the-original-cast-of-annie-on-broadway

Updated On: 7/21/19 at 07:36 PM
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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#12
Posted: 7/21/19 at 8:12pm

Thanks for the links, folks!

Unfortunately, whatever unique quality those original sets had, I don't think they are coming through in the photos. To me they look fairly run-of-the-mill. I guess you really had to see them in person! Wish I had.

Speaking to the topic as a whole: I was introduced to Annie through the recent Broadway revival (I had heard many of the songs beforehand, but never really knew how they worked in context). And I absolutely fell in the love with the show through that production (which makes it interesting for me when people criticize it). I have no exposure whatsoever with the comic strip, so there is nothing there that feels significant to me in that regard. Without having that emotional connection to that iconic look, the big frizzy hair look comes across as kind of silly-looking to me. Whereas I think the Shirley Temple-esque style is a lot more adorable. 

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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#13
Posted: 7/21/19 at 10:25pm

Thanks for posting that website to David's designs above. Admittedly the wonder of his design lay not only in the finished stage pictures but in the magical way they formed and reformed in motion over the course of the night. The design included 2 treadmills running downstage in opposite directions which allowed parades of furniture and/or cast members to float onstage much like a camera pan as the scenic panels slid left to right in sync upstage. Those photos omit all the wonderful interstertial beats in the evening-- the full-size Dusenberg sailing by downstage segueing to a miniature of the car sailing past a row of 5th Ave Brownstones upstage, that sort of thing. I'll also mention the massive use of black and white photo collages overglazed with subtle color was sensationally new back in 1977, if perhaps more of a cliche today. 

David was a maser of subtle proportion and repetition to make a set look inevitable and perfectly correct. That opening Orphanage set with its repeated beds, iron posts and windows was pure David-- elegant, evocative and pure. His design never said "Look at me! What an amazing designer I am!" It said, "Here's exactly what you need to tell this story and no more." How many designers on Broadway today follow that dictum?

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Annie Dress and Origins Obscured#14
Posted: 7/21/19 at 11:12pm

Thanks, Trentsketch, for this reply from a director's perspective!