A NEW NEW DEAL FOR ANNIE By Peter Filichia
Too bad that five unsung heroes of ANNIE LIVE! weren’t able to get applause that the five stars of the show received.
The studio audience for the Dec. 2 event was happy to be there to witness the latest iteration of the Thomas Meehan-Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin classic.
They were happy to see Celina Smith, who they knew from YOUNG DYLAN, and rewarded her heartily when she emerged as Annie.
Taraji P. Henson, the Oscar-nominee for THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, got her due when she entered as Miss Hannigan.
Nicole Scherzinger, of MEN IN BLACK 3 fame, was warmly welcomed as Grace Farrell.
Music fans showed their appreciation for three-time-Grammy winner Harry Connick, Jr. when he showed up as Oliver (soon-to-be Daddy) Warbucks.
Titus Burgess, best known for UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, was last but not necessarily least on the applause meter when he entered as Rooster Hannigan. By then, you might have assumed that the audience had been all clapped out. No, they risked blisters by bestowing plenty of applause on him, too.
What a shame, though, that Lynne Shankel, Bruce Coughlin, Brian Usifer, Stephen Oremus and Zane Mark couldn’t get specific applause for their contributions.
Who are they, you ask? The first four spruced up Philip J. Lang’s orchestration for the 1977 hit; Zane Mark did the same for the dance arrangements.
Their work comes across splendidly on the new studio cast album. As Cameron Mackintosh, producer of three of the six longest-running Broadway shows, said when preparing his 2001 revival of MY FAIR LADY, the best way to spruce up a classic score that the majority of theatergoers know is to change the orchestrations. That’s what’s happened here, and it’s why ANNIE LIVE! makes the score sound spanking brand-new.
Having more dance music than on any other ANNIE recording is a real asset. In Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik’s beloved tome BROADWAY MUSICALS: THE 101 GREATEST SHOWS OF ALL TIME, they acknowledge that many musical theater enthusiasts like “standing in your living room in your BVDs, waving your arms” and “hopping around to” songs. Zane Mark has been so generous and the orchestrators with their twenty-six piece orchestra that we’ll all want to put on our dancing shoes (and our dancing underwear) and romp to much more music in “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” many extra measures in “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” and a few in “We Got Annie.”
That song is best known from the 1982 film, but it did appear in some productions around the country. Charnin, who was also the show’s original director, enjoyed having each company be s-l-i-g-h-t-l-y different from another.
Another song from that film surfaced here: “Sign,” in which Warbucks wants Miss Hannigan to put her Jane Hancock on adoption papers while she tries to distract him from his mission. It’s great fun, too.
“Easy Street” has a new and exciting ride-out – the term used for the music that’s played at the end of the song while the singers are either finishing up or have finished.
You probably think you know every detail about ANNIE, given that it’s been near ubiquitous since April 21, 1977, when it opened to Broadway raves, That’s when everyone could say about it, as the lyric goes in “N.Y.C,” “You’re standing room only.”
However, did you know that if the show had retained the tunestack that it had during its world premiere engagement at the Goodspeed Opera House in 1976, we’d be calling “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” as one of the best opening numbers of all time? There it was the show’s first song with “Maybe” following. By the time the show began its pre-Broadway tryout in Washington, DC, Charnin had decided to reverse them.
“Something Was Missing” was originally an up-tempo Roaring Twenties type of song called “You Rat, You!” in the 1968 film THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S. Ironically, Charles Strouse filled out his film score for a stage adaptation that played in California in 2009, but never came to Broadway. Needless to say, Strouse couldn’t include “You Rat, You!” for by then a substantial part of the nation knew “Something Was Missing.”
Some who saw the broadcast took issue with Warbucks telling Annie that they’re going to a Broadway show and then announcing that they’re off to the Roxy. No, that was never a Broadway theater. Warbucks, though, doesn’t strike us as someone who’d know the difference, just as some people think shows at Radio City qualify as Broadway productions.
Once he, Annie and Grace are seated at the Roxy, Sergio Trujillo’s energetic stage-filling dances do seem more in line with what that theater was offering in those days. Besides, look at the musicals that were playing Broadway at Christmastime, 1933: LET ‘EM EAT CAKE, despite its galvanizing Gershwin score, was acerbic; ROBERTA centered on a football player who was involved to one degree or another with three women; AS THOUSANDS CHEER essentially put a newspaper on stage. There’s not much in any of those that would much interest an eleven-year-old girl.
Wait: if Warbucks had taken Annie to ROBERTA, we’d have seen how the girl who staunchly believed in “Tomorrow” would have taken to a song called “Yesterdays.” (It’s just one of the great songs in the Jerome Kern-Otto Harbach score.) Had they attended AS THOUSANDS CHEER, they would have seen a sketch called “The Funnies.” Wouldn’t it have been something if Annie saw among the characters one Little Orphan Annie?
If you didn’t see the broadcast, you might be surprised to hear Miss Hannigan’s voice in “A New Deal for Christmas.” Surprise! She had a change of heart in this production and exposes Rooster and Lily. (Is this to ensure that NBC will never broadcast ANNIE 2: MISS HANNIGAN’S REVENGE LIVE! based on the 1989 sequel that closed in Washington without daring to brave Broadway?)
“A New Deal for Christmas” also has a lyric “I know The Depression’s depressing.” Indeed, Broadway in the thirties was suffering as much as every other industry. So Warbucks’ earlier line “I’m glad to see Broadway getting back on its feet in spite of hard times” got applause from the appreciative attendees. We all know why.
This is not a genuine soundtrack album, for it wasn’t taken from the track of sound that films and TV shows have. One can tell this is a recording made in the studio, because there’s no applause and laughs that were heard time and time again during the actual broadcast.
Henson struck many as being over-the-top, but in the studio, she pulled it in and sounds fine. Connick has the best voice of all the Daddy Warbucks you can hear on recordings. In addition, he took on two other jobs, too: “Something Was Missing” has him playing the piano and, with Martin Charnin lost to us two-and-a-half years ago, Connick provided new lyrics for his “Maybe” reprise.
I’ve seen ANNIE seventeen times in twelve different productions, ranging from sea (the Goodspeed tryout) to shining sea (Costa Mesa in 2013) via Broadway, national, high school and community theater productions. I’d rank Smith as one of the best Annies. You’ll understand why the audience roared at the end of “Tomorrow” the way she played with the familiar melody.
And if anyone ever wonders why “Tomorrow” has become one of the most beloved show songs of the last half century, all one has to do is recall that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his cabinet members could sing it after they’d heard it just one time. (All right, that’s a joke, but it’s not that far from the truth.)
In fact, “Tomorrow” is such a great song that it doesn’t even need any accompanying music. In the final cut of the new recording, the orphans sing part of it acapella.
Well, considering how hard Lynne Shankel, Bruce Coughlin, Brian Usifer, Stephen Oremus and Zane Mark worked to accommodate and enhance Charles Strouse’s music, they deserved a rest.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. He’s a contributor to the new magazine Encore Monthly.