"Annie" Heaven


July 22nd, 2008, 5:33 am #1

I am in "Annie" heaven today. I received autographed pictures in the mail from Sally Struthers and Bob Fitch who appeared in the Reagle Players' production of "Annie" this month. Both of them wrote letters to accompany their autographs. I was impressed!

Here is Peter Filicia's column from July 4, 2008. It is his second regarding the new "Annie" CDs. I saw "Annie 2" in December 1989, but it was great to read his recap. I really didn't remember much from that long ago. Yay, Peter!

As I mentioned on Wednesday, the new Time-Life issue of Annie: The 30th Anniversary Production also offers a second disc. It’s mostly devoted to Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, the show with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Martin Charnin — the same team that gave us the 1977 Tony-winning classic that, for a while, became known as Annie 1.
For a very little while, really. After Annie 2 canceled its planned February, 1990 opening at the Marquis, closed in Washington — and broke the heart 11-year-old Danielle Findley (the new Annie) — Annie 1 reverted, now and forever, to Annie.
Many songs from Annie 2 wound up in the heavily revamped 1993 off-Broadway version, Annie Warbucks. None that did is included on this disc. But nine that didn’t make it in are here — including two absolute winners — in this “true saga of Annie 2 and its roller coaster ride.” Those words are spoken on the disc by Charnin, who’s one narrator; no less than Carol Burnett (the first movie’s Hannigan) is the other, explaining her role in this revenge comedy.
The show didn’t start with Hannigan, though — all to give Dorothy Loudon a late star entrance, my dears — but some time in “1934,” as the first song goes, at Oliver Warbucks’ Fifth Avenue Mansion. But the Depression being what it is, things are financially tough even here. “Rubber’s really on the skids” is one nifty Charnin lyric, though an even better one has Warbucks insisting that his staff “Learn to turn your paper over so you’ve written on both sides.” Charnin also gives a couple of cute in-jokes that refer back to the source material. The first one has Annie bravely accept this austerity measure by saying “One red dress is all that I’ll ever need” – which in fact was all she ever wore in the funnies. Similarly, Warbucks later says, “This is hard-boiled economics; this is not, my friends the comics.”
Annie and Warbucks have another problem when a representative for the “United Mother of America” arrives and says that Warbucks isn’t capable of raising a little girl alone, and that he must marry so that Annie will have a mother; otherwise, the organization will take her away from him. Warbucks reluctantly agrees, but Annie says she doesn’t want a mother in a “1934” reprise that, as orchestrated by Michael Starobin, regrettably sounds as if it’s a Nazi anthem. It should have been a tender song in which Annie fears someone new in her life, which had been going so well until this happened. Charnin instead offered a number of small things that irritate a kid — “Mommies make you eat things like squash” — instead of including what made Annie great: Genuine emotion.
The first song that will have you rushing to your “Repeat” button is “How Could I Ever Say No?” with that wonderful trademark “Strouse bounce” (heard in la “It’s the Hard-Knock Life,” “The Telephone Hour,” “It’s Superman,” and dozens of others). Hannigan re-unites with cellmate Lionel McCoy, and insists that he help her kidnap Annie and split the ransom. My favorite rhyme is her “Help me, Li’nel” to his “No, that’s final!” Of course, one could suspect that Charnin chose the name Lionel after he found the rhyme; after all, wasn’t that how, in Annie, he named Warbucks’ butler and housekeeper via “When you wake, ring for Drake” and “When you’re through, Mrs. Pugh.”?
Warbucks is too busy to court anyone, so finding the future Mrs. Warbucks falls onto his ever-dependable secretary Grace Farrell. Soon she’s complaining in song that Warbucks is always saying, “Grace, take a memo! Find my reading glasses! Get me a wife,” which she follows with, “He doesn’t know I’m alive.” No, those commands prove he certainly does know that she’s alive. The lyric should have been “He only knows I’m alive when he needs something.”
Still, Grace does her job and starts interviewing potential candidates, asking them some rarefied questions to test their cultural mettle. Charnin gets in some good jokes about Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent van Gogh, Bela Bartok, Lillian Hellman, and Dostoevsky in a pleasant enough ditty, “The Lady of the House.” A creaky plot device had a disguised Hannigan come in and prey on Warbucks sympathy with a fabulous song, “But You Go On” (written during the Washington run, and retained for Annie Warbucks; it’s the working-class woman’s “I’m Still Here”). Nevertheless, Meehan gilded the lily by having Hannigan choose as her alias the very-see-thruable “Charlotte O’Hara.”
Burnett then says that Hannigan gets an unexpected break in the kidnapping plot because she “finds a kid who looks enough like Annie” so that she can switch one with the other. Actually, that kid, a street urchin named Kate, was a dead ringer for Annie, as is proved by the fact that Danielle Findley played her, too. Hannigan tells Kate, “You! You! You! can be Annie, too!” – a nice pun on the show’s title.
Alas, “You! You! You!” isn’t included here, perhaps because Strouse recycled some of the melody into Annie Warbucks’ “Above the Law.” (If we want to get technical, “You! You! You!” was a Strouse recycling job to begin with; the melody first appeared in “Love Comes First,” Margo Channing’s original 11 o’clocker when Applause tried out in Baltimore.)
Hannigan and Lionel tail Daddy Warbucks, even when he says that he wants to go to “Coney Island.” The idea does sound a little too “N.Y.C”-y, but the wonderful, ragtime-tinged melody excuses that. Fay Apple always mourned that, unlike anyone, she couldn’t whistle, but she’d learn just so she could keep this delicious Strouse melody in her mouth.
Charnin starts off with a bright lyric, too: “You never know what’ll happen to you in Coney Island,” but then his first example of that is a limp one: “A lady might lose her glove” – all to rhyme with the more convincing, “A fella might fall in love.” The other examples are fine enough, leading to the conclusion that “You’ll never come back the same.” That latter line was not lightly tossed off as a mere celebration of Coney Island, but offers a second layer of meaning: Annie isn’t going to come back the same, because the kidnappers will switch her with Kate, who’ll then return to the Warbucks mansion in her place. So in Washington, while the nine-minute number continued with some heavenly Peter Howard dance music, Hannigan and Lionel were seen trying to capture the kid.
They got Annie, too, through another smart move Meehan devised: Annie wants to go on a carnival ride, and while Grace says she’ll go with her, Annie needs to feel grown-up and says she’d like to go alone. Which of us didn’t feel the same way in our youth after years of riding with our parents? Grace lets her – which gives the ne’er-do-wells the chance to make the switch.
The next three songs may only interest those who only have an insatiable thirst for the makings of a Broadway musical. “All I’ve Got Is Me,” “I Guess Things Happen for the Best,” and “My Daddy” all deal with Annie’s feelings once she’s kidnapped — and all have the exact same melody. Charnin explains that “We were able to fix and make some changes though we know we were closing,” so he rewrote. Thus you get what Annie sang when the show debuted, the change mid-run, and the change before closing. What the trio of songs does best is show how Charnin was willing to work and wouldn’t give up. To come up with an entirely new idea and write a distinctly new lyric, all while having to fit the same Strouse melody, couldn’t have been easy — especially in the era when musical theater songs were expected to rhyme and scan correctly, too.
Charnin says on the disc that the third song allowed Annie to “get closer to Daddy Warbucks, which is what Annie 2 should have been about all along.” No, she was close enough to him, and none of us left Annie ever doubting that they both loved each other. Why go over those emotions again when they were so well-established?
What Annie 2 should have been was a story of a kid who wanted her new father to get married to Grace Farrell — not necessarily because she needed a mother, but because she felt that Grace really loved him, and she wanted to see them together. Annie would have had two struggles here: 1) To get this pretty young woman to admit she loves Warbucks — and she does because he’s blossomed into a real human being — and not worry that he’ll just think she’s out for his money, and 2) To get this hesitant, older man to admit his feelings and not fear he’ll be spurned because he’s older, fatter — and certainly balder. A few misadventures along the way prior to a happy ending would have made for a real audience pleaser. Annie 4, anyone?
You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com