By Harry Haun
The New York Observer
October 3, 2012
THERE WAS AN Annie before the original 1977 Annie we all know and love—before its much-hyped 1990 sequel, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, crashed on takeoff and burned out of town at the Kennedy Center in 1990; before Annie Warbucks rose from those ashes for a redeemably respectable run Off Broadway three years later; before it celebrated its 20th anniversary Broadway revival with Nell Carter (and some newbie named Sutton Foster playing A Star to Be); and before its current resurrection starts previews today for a Nov. 8 premiere at the Palace, starring Katie Finneran as horrible Miss Hannigan.
Before all that—even before that purposeful, pupil-less little redhead in the matching red dress stepped out of the funny papers and onto the Broadway stage—there was Annie, the Women in the Life of a Man, an hourlong CBS special that won 1970’s Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety or Musical Program and another for its writers. Anne Bancroft, in the title role, wafted about in various moods and guises among name-brand males like Jack Cassidy, Arthur Murray, David Susskind, Dick Smothers, Dick Shawn, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Merrill and even her hubby, Mel Brooks.
One of her guises came from “YMA Dreams,” a short story in The New Yorker by its humorist-in-residence, Thomas Meehan. He’d imagined a cocktail party hosted by Yma Sumac and peopled by Ava, Uta, Ida, Eva, Una and others of that ilk.
“Anne loved your story and would like you to adapt it for her special.” That phone call, in late 1969, was opportunity ringing, and Mr. Meehan deliberated one of his famous nanoseconds before climbing aboard. The caller was Martin Charnin, who produced the first special, and, four years later, directed its sequel, Annie and the Hoods. He then invited Mr. Meehan back for seconds, and it was during collaboration No. 2 that the prospects of a theatrical partnership started to gel.
Mr. Charnin was the original “Big Deal,” one of the Jets in West Side Story. When he had done that role more than a thousand times, he decided on a less strenuous line of work: writing lyrics. After two failed swoops (Hot Spot in 1963 and Mata Hari in 1967), he landed on Broadway in 1970, with Two by Two, starring Danny Kaye. TV specials helped him get back on the Broadway track, and he was pondering his next charge when he noticed a potential book writer in Mr. Meehan, who did nothing to discourage the notion.
“I’d been stage-struck all my life, but I’d never been involved in the theatre at all,” Mr. Meehan admitted. “Finally, a few months later, he called and said he had a great idea for a musical. I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘I can’t tell you over the phone. It might be tapped.’ So I came to his office, and he said ‘Little Orphan Annie.’” It wasn’t exactly thrilling. “I was thinking West Side Story, maybe My Fair Lady. I didn’t want to do a cartoony thing like that. I just shrugged.”
But Mr. Meehan told him two-time Tony-winning composer Charles Strouse had already agreed to do the music, “so I thought, ‘Who am I to tell these guys to take a hike?’”
To read the complete article, click on the following link: