Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Annie: An Overview Review

Annie. Stars Anthony Warlow, Nancye Hayes, Todd McKenney,  Chloe Dallimore, Alan Jones and sharing the Annie role Xanthe Dunning, Anita Munro, Chloe Thiel. Original creators Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music), Martin Charnin (lyrics). Lyric Theatre, Brisbane. Tickets sell till May 13.

Little Orphan Annie, in some shape or another, will forever be waiting in the wings.

I am not saying the 1977 musical Annie is a show for everyone – in fact I suspect it’s a show I could effortlessly miss myself – but if it is coming back then this team is the one to breathe life into it.

Australian producer and two-time Tony award winner, John Frost, knows how to stage a fireproof show and this one will have the box office thundering like the 1812.

There’s a who’s who of musical theatre talent leading the charge against the backdrop of a creative team to match the best in the world and, for once, I do include Broadway.

Brisbane is awash with critics and ordinary families who can concoct enough adjectives to extol the glories of everyone from the charm encrusted Warlow to the vintage professionalism of Ms Hayes.

Then they’ll be superlatives aplenty for the little girl orphan troop, three butter-wouldn’t-melt in their mouths Annies, two four-legged pooches and, perhaps, even a  kind word or two for love-him-or-hate-him radio jock, turned FDR, Alan Jones.

This is a staged chocolate box designed to clog up the emotional arteries with waves of touchy-feely sentiment until the tide of escapism finally goes out and hard-hearted reality returns.

So rather then dwell on what East Londoners
call, ‘the bleedin’ obvious,’ I thought I’d take a closer look  at the Orphan Annie legend born in 1885.

That’s when US poet James Whitcomb Riley took a  young girl, whose father was killed  in the American Civil War, as the inspiration for a poem known as the Elf Child and later Little Orphan Annie.

The girl was Little Orphan Allie, who morphed into Annie, thanks to one of those seemingly endless typos which change the course of popular culture.

Riley’s celebration of a wealth of positive attributes for children, including an optimistic outlook, quickly became a children’s favourite and in turn led to the much loved Raggedy Ann Doll.

It even spawned a 1918 silent movie and was an ingredient in the recipe for Harold Gray’s popular Little Orphan Annie newspaper strip, which debuted August 5, 1924.

Gray, who had also been inspired by a ‘ragamuffin’ he bumped into on the streets of Chicago, ‘who impressed him with her commonsense, know-how and ability to take care of herself, originally found selling the concept very much the hard knock life.

But just like show biz stalwarts in the popular bio-pics of the 1930s and ‘40s, never looked back once he was given a break in the New York Daily News. Little Orphan Annie was eventually syndicated across the country.

One of the strip’s most curious characters is Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks  (Warlow in the new Australian production) who appears to have none of the attributes associated with a contemporary benefactor.

He’s a baldheaded uncomprising capitalist with the repellent name Warbucks – doesn’t that remind you of someone? Oh, yes Lex Luther – who in the original strip made his fortune manufacturing arms in World War One.

Gray, who didn’t shy away from political themes such as organised labour, FDR’s New Deal and communism, had a healthy disregard for anyone – in government or the unions – who interfered with private wealth.

And some claim the modern Annie is out of touch with contemporary western society?
The strip continued until 2010 (when it limped out of existence as it only appeared in 10 newspapers), but in the meantime Messes Meehan, Strouse and Charnin turned it into a hit musical in 1977, although their journey to Broadway success was hardly any yellow brick road.

While Little Orphan Annie might not remain a red-headed Depression-spawned munchkin, trapped in a 1933 time warp, I suspect the core drive of the piece will live on albeit revamped.

There was, for example, a report in Variety at the beginning of last year that US movie star Will Smith wanted to re-invent the show as a vehicle for his daughter Willow Smith.

And, oh yes, I have just caught up with the news that a revival of Annie is due to open on Broadway later in the year. For more http://www.anniethemusical.com/news

Little Annie never aged in Gray’s strip and I doubt she ever will as heroes – even orphans - never do.   

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