Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strauss
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
adapted from Harold Gray’s comic strip, Little Orphan Annie

INFO:

Opened at the Alvin Theatre    April 21, 1977    2,377 performances (often revived)
Original Director: Martin Charnin
Original Choreographer: Peter Gennaro
Original Producer: Mike Nichols, Irwin Meyer, Stephen Friedman and Lewis Allen
Original Leads: Daddy Wabucks: Reid Shelton   Miss Hannigan: Dorothy Loudon   Annie: Andrea McArdle
Cast Size: Male: 3 Female: 4, including Annie Ensemble: As large as possible Total Cast Size: 7 plus ensemble, at least 20, better at closer to 30. And a dog named Sandy! And someone has to convincingly play Roosevelt!
Orchestra: 17-18, can be done with a smaller group
Published Script: None
Production Rights: MTI (Musical Theater International)
Recordings: Many. The original Broadway is good enough.
Film: Directed by John Huston (?!), it’s okay. Starred Albert Finney (Warbucks), Carol Burnett (Miss Hannigan), Tim Curry (Rooster), Bernadette Peters (Lily). Will Smith is producing a new filmed version as this is being written.
Other shows by the authors: Strauss: Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy, It’s A Bird It’s A Plane It’s Superman, Applause, Rags, Nick & Nora
Awards: Nominated for 11 Tonys, it won 7 including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Lyrics (undeserved, I think), Best Director (Charnin), Best Featured Actress (Louden), Best Choreography (Gennaro)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

An ideal show for reasonably large companies with lots of young children (ages around 8-14), particularly girls. High Schools could do this in conjunction with a local Jr. High or two. Local theater groups and little theaters have often done Annie, as have Dinner Theater groups. Summer camp kids’ theaters would do this well. Religious groups might safely do it. Off-Broadway and Regional should avoid it, you’ll be competing with Broadway unless you’re mounting a revival.

Be Warned:

There isn’t much in this show that will offend.  I find it offensive that F.D.R. is made into a clown, but that’s just me, I guess.  The show, however, is quite large, and requires serious resources.  You really need seven young girls who can sing, dance and act, particularly your lead, and that’s rough.  If you don’t have an Annie, this is not your show.

This show calls for a large stage, as Warbucks is wealthy and his place looks like it.  That also means a large, ornate set.  If that is out of your reach, don’t do this show unless you can think of a creative option.  And no, multi-media sets will not work, this show is decidedly in its period.

One of the most popular musicals of the past 30 years or so. You may wish to check to see if it’s been done in your area over the past few years before choosing to do Annie.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: A chilly morning in early December, 1933, NYC. The New York City Municipal Orphanage – Girl’s Annex. A large-ish dormitory. Six orphans sleep, until the youngest, Molly, wakes up having a nightmare and crying for her Mama. The others wake up, and they are tough, hard-bitten 6-13 year-olds. They start to fight when Annie, age 11, rushes in with a bucket. She’s been cleaning. She gets them to stop, and consoles Molly. Molly asks Annie to read her a note she carries around. Annie pulls the crumpled note from her pocket and reads “Please take care of our little darling…” It’s from her mother, and as she reads the others make fun of her – they’ve heard it many times. She gets the others to shut up, and she dreams that someday, “Maybe” her parents will come for her.

She decides her folks will never come for her. She must find them, and that means she needs to run away. As she sneaks open the door, Miss Hannigan is standing there, witch-like. She hears everything. She hates orphans. Annie tells Miss Hannigan that she is not an orphan. She punishes them all, making them clean the place at four a.m. The Orphans go to work, complaining that “It’s A Hard-Knock Life”. They hate Hannigan as much as she hates them.

Morning, the room is done as Hannigan walks in and lines them up for inspection. They don’t even get hot mush for breakfast – they get cold mush. Bundles, a laundry man, comes in with fresh sheets – and Annie hides in a laundry bag. Bundles sort-of comes on to the hideous Hannigan as he works, so they don’t notice Annie. She’s escaped.

A corner of St. Mark’s Place, a chilly afternoon. An apple seller takes pity and gives her one. A Dog Catcher on his way to the pound comes through, and misses one that Annie immediately adopts, named Sandy. She lets Sandy know that “Tomorrow”, things will be better for both of them. A cop stops and asks about the dog. He tells her to call the dog, and if it doesn’t go to Annie, he’s taking the dog in. But miraculously, Sandy comes to Annie when called by that name.

Hooverville, a Depression-style shanty town of shacks at the edge of the East River. Dusk, same day. Artie and Mary, older denizens, cook and put up a shelter. They all wonder how they went from Middle Class to broke, and announce in song that “We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover”. Annie and Sandy arrive, looking for her parents. They offer to share their soup with her, and she’s tough. She isn’t hungry – but Sandy is. She explains that her parents have been missing for 11 years. Some encourage her to keep looking. Others point out that they also have nothing – what is there to look forward to? The cop come in and kicks them all out, tearing down their shacks. Annie kicks a cop and runs with Sandy.

The orphanage. The girls are interested in something and Hannigan wants to know what. A girl holds it up for her with a big grin, a dead mouse. Hannigan drunkenly screams at them to leave her, and reminds us how much she hates “Little Girls”. Exhausted, she turns on the radio, a soap opera that she holds a running discussion with. The cop we saw earlier enters to speak to her. They’ve found Annie, with “a mutt”, and brought her in. Miss Hannigan is all concern until the cop leaves, and then she turns on Annie. She promises horrible retribution. Hannigan lives in terror that the NY Board of Orphans will come poking around because of things like Annie’s escape. She starts to almost beat Annie when she’s interrupted by the arrival of a limo, and beautiful Grace Farrell.

Grace is there by the recommendation of the NY Board of Orphans, and Hannigan is reduced instantly to blithering explanations, but Grace stops her. Grace is the personal secretary to one of the wealthiest men in the country, Oliver Warbucks. Warbucks has decided to invite an orphan for the Christmas holidays to his home. She’s there to select one. She describes what she’s looking for, and Annie instantly works to be all those things described. Grace works with Annie, and obviously selects her, charmed. Hannigan protests, but Grace threatens to reveal the very things Hannigan blathered earlier about. Annie is free again!

The living room of Warbucks’ mansion. Grace introduces Annie to the servants. It is paradise, bought and paid for. Annie is given a new coat. She’s their guest for two weeks, and she lets the world know that “I Think I’m Going To Like It Here”. Warbucks gets back from six weeks of business travel. Grace catches him up, calls from President Roosevelt (he doesn’t care for Roosevelt and will call him back tomorrow), John D. Rockefeller, Mahatma Gandhi, Harpo Marx. He is so busy he almost steps on Annie, and Grace introduces them. But Warbucks thought that orphans were boys. But he’ll live with it for two weeks. He asks if she’d like to meet Lou Gehrig. (Great Yankee baseball player.) She wants to please him, but has no idea who Gehrig is. He has no idea what to do with her, and suggests a movie. She’s never been to one. He sends Grace with Annie, to show the girl the town.

But Annie is disappointed, she wanted Warbucks to take her. He’s a very busy man, as he gets the phone and speaks to Bernard Baruch (major financial advisor to the President), and is about to set a meeting tonight when he looks at Annie, changes his mind, and lets the man know he has a date with a little girl. He calls for coats, invites Grace, decides to get some air – 45 block walk to the Roxy theatre. And they see “N.Y.C.”, that magical town. Annie falls asleep in the film, and Warbucks picks her up, walks out with her. Sandy walks through looking everywhere for Annie.

Miss Hannigan’s office, as she listens to the radio. Grace enters. Hannigan assumes they want to give Annie back. But Grace informs her that Annie and Warbucks are inseparable. He wants to adopt Annie. Hannigan is stunned – Annie will be the daughter of a millionaire? Grace corrects her – she’ll be the daughter of a billionaire. And Grace is there to tell Hannigan that Annie will never, never be returning to the orphanage.

As Grace exits, she encounters Rooster, and leaves quickly. He is Hannigan’s disreputable brother, just freed from Leavenworth prison. He’s accompanied by his scuzzy girl, Lily. Hannigan tells them to leave, but he needs money. None of them have any money, or any chance of taking up residence on “Easy Street”. Rooster asks about Grace, and discovers she works for Warbucks. And somehow, the fact that Annie is being adopted by the man may now put Rooster and his friends on Easy Street, too, as he has a plan.

Warbucks’ office in the mansion. Warbucks is on the phone with President Roosevelt. He invites the President and his wife to Christmas Eve dinner. He’s surprised the President accepts, as he has no idea what Democrats eat. He has a present in a box from Tiffany’s for Annie, and is going to give it to her, and then tell her he wishes to adopt her. She’s sure she’s going back to the orphanage. But instead, he tells her his own life story, and why he does not want to be alone. They don’t quite understand each other, but they’re trying. (Cute bit, more human than most of the show.) He gives her a silver engraved locket to replace her broken one…but that locket was from her mom and dad, with the note. She tells him that she wants more than anything in the world to find her parents before he can ask about adopting her. He decides it’s best, “Why Should I Change A Thing”. So he promises to help her find them. He mobilizes his forces, and promises “You won’t Be An Orphan For Long”.

ACT TWO: In a studio, Annie is on the radio of a popular show, and Warbucks offers $50,000 as a reward to anyone who can find her parents. He explains she is 11 years-old, and was left at the Orphanage on December 31, 1922. He will give the parents this enormous fortune (at that time) when they make themselves known and claim Annie. And the radio talent does a big commercial for toothpaste, “You’re Never Fully Dressed without A Smile”.

The Office at the Orphanage. The orphans have sneaked in and have listened to the broadcast. They sing the smile song, and long to be free of this place, and famous like Annie now is. Hannigan enters, annoyed that she may have heard happiness coming from them. She kicks out the girls, and Rooster and Lily enter, disguised as Mr. And Mrs. Mudge, “Annie’s parents.” They fool Hannigan, and that’s what they plan to do when they visit Warbuck’s mansion. They make a deal to split the cash, and then, well, Rooster has a knife to take care of little orphan Annie.

The Cabinet Meeting Room in the White House. Roosevelt, in a wheelchair, back to the audience, listens to a broadcaster attacking him. His Cabinet waits for him at the table. Warbucks enters with Annie. They are going to meet with Warbucks, and enchanted, Roosevelt asks Annie to stay. The men share their views, Warbucks that “the business of the country is business”. (Which he wrongly attributes to President Coolidge, who went on to say that was a destructive approach to the economy and to life.) They argue over what America’s biggest problem is. Things look hopeless, but Annie reminds them that the sun will come out “Tomorrow” (reprise). The men are energized and ambitious again.

A telegram arrives for Warbucks. Hundreds of couples have lined up outside his house, claiming to be Annie’s parents. Roosevelt thanks Annie for bucking him up, as she and Warbucks rush out. And he and his brain trust suddenly invent The New Deal!

In the mansion. Grace has interviewed hundreds of people claiming to be Annie’s parents. And she knows they are all liars. She is deeply disheartened. Warbucks and Annie return. Grace has to tell Annie they were all fakes. None of them knew about the locket. Annie is saddened. Alone with her, Warbucks tells her that “Something Was Missing” from his life until she showed up. She is coming to love him, as he loves her. Warbucks tells Grace to get those adoption papers, and tells Annie what he wants to do. She says if she can’t have her mother and father, there’s no one she’d rather be with than him, and they hug. Warbucks has the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court called in, to sign the adoption papers.

They plan a big party (the obligatory scene in so many fair-to-mediocre musicals), and everything is going to be wonderful. (“Annie”) Brandeis is ready to proceed, and the party prepared…when Rooster and Lily show up in disguise, and they know about Annie’s locket, since Hannigan told them. In fact, Rooster has the broken part of the locket (from Hannigan). To Warbucks’ sorrow, they do appear to be the parents. They want to take Annie, and claim they don’t know anything about a reward. Warbucks says they can have Annie tomorrow, and Rooster readily agrees. They leave, and everyone including Annie is steeped in gloom. Roosevelt enters to a very depressed room, and he moans that he seems to have that effect on everyone. Warbucks quietly asks Franklin for help…

Next morning. Annie is deeply unhappy. She is ready to go, though, and asks Warbucks if he’ll visit her. He is affirmative, strangely, that he will see her. Warbucks has something to tell Annie, after he and Grace and Roosevelt have been at work all night, with the F.B.I. Roosevelt and Warbucks gently tell Annie the Mudges are not her parents. Her parents were David and Margaret Bennett, and they died long ago. She is an orphan. In a way, she always suspected it. Warbucks lets her know he loves her, and she returns his love. And then, Annie gets good and angry and wants to know who the Mudges are. And they all talk it out until the link becomes apparent – Miss Hannigan, who at that moment shows up at the door with the orphans. She is stunned to find Roosevelt there. Annie is joyfully reunited with the other girls, and she has presents for all of them. Stunned, she is seated by the butler. Mr. And Mrs. “Mudge” arrive. Roosevelt decides this is too good to miss, and stays.

Warbucks plays along, as if Annie is packed and ready to go, and hands them a check pay to the order of…the jig is up. Warbucks, Grace announce Rooster’s real name. The F.B.I takes them in, and Warbucks provides them Miss Hannigan. Annie and Warbucks are safely together. (“I Don’t Need Anything But You”)

Warbucks meets all the orphan girls. They meet him and the President. Their lives are all going to be better, now, there’s “A New Deal For Christmas”. Annie opens up a present – and Sandy leaps from the box into her arms.

THE SONGS:

“Maybe”, “Hard Knock Life”, “Tomorrow”, “We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover”, “Little Girls”, “I Think I’m Going To Like It Here”, “N.Y.C.”, “Easy Street”, “You Won’t Be An Orphan For Long”, “Why Should I Change A Thing?”, “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile”, “Something Was Missing”, “Annie”, “A New Deal For Christmas”

Hits include “Hard Knock Life”, “Tomorrow” (“Maybe” is very strong, and “Easy Street” can stop the show, as can “Little Girls”.)

MY OPINIONS:

You can, of course, skip right over my opinion and rating.   If you do, however, don’t be surprised if the sun fails to come out tomorrow…

If you dislike camp, as I do, this will not be a good show for you to get involved with. This is smarter camp than most such entries, camp with a bit more heart, with a fairly good script that moves quickly along and has plenty of laughs and rooting interests. But it is shamefully manipulative and makes use of a horrible time in America as entertainment, and I personally find it slightly embarrassing. There is a human element that is appealing, the transition of Warbucks into a loving father is nice, and potentially moving. Annie’s discovery that she can be happy without her lost parents is touching as well. There is hope for this show on a human level, but those elements really have to be pushed front and center to combat the essential heartlessness and overall mindlessness of the story.

I realize that Annie fans are gasping right now at my heresy. To use poverty and hunger and desperation in a Musical Comedy (and that’s all this is) to the end of making a plot work is, in my estimation, the result of poverty-stricken minds and souls. Sorry, that’s how it is. Roosevelt is portrayed as a bumbler and a bit of a fool, and I also find that insulting and rubbish.

Every little girl in America wanted to play Annie when this show first opened, and many of them still do today. It’s a huge role with lots of songs, and a very demanding part at that. How many shows have a little girl as a star? (There are a few. Not many.) Every stage mother in America saw herself (oops, sorry, I mean her daughter) in the role, and they still do. Okay, swell. It has a dog in it, a cute dog. Great. Every effort is made to tug at the hearts of the audience. Every transparent, bald, obvious, trite effort, and that’s how I see much of the show. Annie raises up above the level of most camp, which is utter garbage. It has good moments, a few fun songs. For me, I simply do not care for the show, and that is my opinion, which you are free to completely ignore.

My daughter wanted to play Annie when she was young. I cast her as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, instead. She seemed okay with that. That show also takes place during the Depression, by the way. But it doesn’t use the Depression for laughs. Instead, it gives us the immortal wish to be “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, somewhere better than here. That is a far better show than Annie.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is pretty square, predictable, straight ahead. The lyrics tend to be somewhat redundant, and at times, become a drag on the show. Keep the music moving, except for the ballads. Your Musical Director must be good with kids! Your players should be reasonably good. It’s not a hard score.

Annie – Mezzo with a huge, clear-as-a-bell belt on top. Alive, hard-edged but warm voice. Plays age 11, might need to be older.

Warbucks – Lyric baritone, mature, warm, strong voice with good vitality.

Hannigan – Alto, strong belt, comic chops while singing.

Grace – Soprano, clear, clean, strong voice, feminine and professional.

Roosevelt – Baritone, in character, decent voice.

Rooster – Baritone, good high notes and belt, good in-character singing.

Lily – Soprano, good mid-register, some belt.

The Other Orphans – Girls, usually six of them, ages 6-13. All must sing, all must belt cleanly.

Drake – Non-singing.

Ensemble – Many roles. The members of F.D.R.’s cabinet, all must sing and double in other roles like the cop, Hooverville residents, etc. Some belting probably needed for everyone, get all the ranges covered. Some ability to harmonize a plus. (Note – in the Hooverville scene, it might be fun to have one person on banjo, another harmonica, and re-orchestrate it to make a lot of the music happen on stage.)

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

The dancing for this show needs to be energetic, Broadway-standard or as close as you can get to it. It should be impressive where needed, athletic. It all should come from the period of the Depression, as many moves as you can borrow. And your choreographer must be pretty good with little girls.

Numbers the Choreographer will need to have hands-on might include “Hard Knock Life”, “We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover”, “I Think I’m Going To Like It Here”, “N.Y.C.”, “Easy Street”, “You Won’t Be An Orphan For Long”, “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile”, “Annie”, and “A New Deal For Christmas”. That is most of the score. This is a dance show.

“Hard Knock Life” should come from the characters singing it as well as the period of time. They are alone, and have learned variously to survive, some by being tough, some by appearing easily hurt. Whatever mechanisms are at work for each character, they should be on display. I hate it when I see this number and it’s a bunch of girls who are all the same, without individual characters or personalities. That approach can really hurt the character’s credibility later in the show. This number provides an opportunity to develop characters early, and should be discussed thoroughly with the Director. Also, these kids are stuck in a small room most of their lives. There should be a claustrophobic sense, they are locked in, they are not free. They might even pull at the doors, and find them locked, try to open windows and find them barred. Using this number to paint a picture of children imprisoned could deepen the play and make us care for better reasons than the script provides, generally.

I would love it if the Hooverville number displayed real poverty, not cartoon poverty. Sit the orchestra out, have the actors play the music – it’s the only entertainment these characters will ever have. You have a chance to deepen the show with this number, if you don’t play it up for glitz like everyone always does. Keep the movement simple, homey, improvised in feel. The accompaniment, live and in front of us, is a harmonica, a guitar, a Jew’s harp, a trash can to bang on. These people don’t have the energy to dance. Make us care about their plight and you’ll have made Annie a better show.

“I Think I’m Going To Like It Here” should show the Warbucks’ estate falling in love with this resourceful, edgy, good-hearted child. And you need to be careful not to paint her as a mercenary! It’s a real danger with this number. It isn’t wealth she seeks and enjoys at this moment – it’s escape from Hannigan and the drudgery of the life she’s led so far. There should be a sense of sudden freedom, of air in the movement, of space. What is lovely about Warbuck’s wealth (and by extension, America’s wealth) is that possibilities are opened up by it. Life can be better, it can be improved. That is the American ethos, anyway, and it should be on display here. Same thing goes for N.Y.C., a love letter like so many others in musicals, to the Big Apple. (That’s all that “On The Town” and “Wonderful Town” is about.) Open space, freedom of motion, things to see and do that were not available to Annie just a day before. A sense of expanding freedom.

“Easy Street” is a contrast. It all happens in a small cramped office, a dirty little office with hidden bottles of booze and bad smells. It is a return to claustrophobia, to pollution, even to servitude, though these people are trapped by their own greed and lack of industry. The number MUST be fun and funny, a display of the worst elements of mankind – laziness, self-involvement, a look-out for the big chance at all others’ expense. But it is a celebration of these lowly values, and should feel like one.

“You Won’t Be An Orphan For Long” needs to forward plot points, we must see them develop. It also ends an act and needs to have the energy to do so. It needs very directed dance and movement, the story must remain clear.

“You’re Never…” is a number performed before a radio audience, so it doesn’t need tons of movement. But is has to carry the exact feel and movement of the period. I suggest some serious research if your Choreographer is not familiar with the kinds of dance one might have seen as a part of such a performance. Keep it light, fun…it is written to be annoyingly fun, I’m afraid. If you can harden its edges with Warbucks’ and Annie’s plight, their genuine eagerness to communicate and succeed, it will help.

“Annie”, like the numbers “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly”, is a celebration of a woman who has come into the lives of the audience and the characters in the play. Only Annie is 11 years-old, so you need to be very careful what forms that celebration takes. Celebrate her innocence, her heart, her spunk, even her toughness, that’s it. Anytime an adult touches her, the way they do it tells the audience about that character and their personality. Miss Hannigan always touches to hurt. Grace and Warbucks touch people with care, with affection, and never with bad intent. Choreograph this number with that in mind.

“A New Deal” is the end of the show, high energy, some posing, some dance, but nothing so athletic that it gets in the way of the end of the story. And the orphans should use the number as a celebration of their newly-won freedom.

Those little girls must dance well!

CASTING CONCERNS:

Annie – She can be any age so long as she can pass for 11. That curly red hair is a must. (See the drawings that the show is based on.) A very strong singing actress, tough, edgy, very determined, a survivor who has not lost touch with her heart. She aches, she is desperate for a home, for love, and she sees that manifested in her imaginary parents. She is not unaware of Warbucks’ kindness to her, of the life he offers her. But she is not mercenary, she wants a loving life. Cast for type and acting, voice, then movement, but you’ll need a triple threat for the role.

Warbucks – 40-60ish. Famously bald. A man of great power, energy, drive and influence. A man almost always sure of himself and his views, accustomed to having the attention of the most important people, and having them feel lucky to have his attention. Ultimately morphs from a man unsure of how to be with a child to nearly the perfect father. Capable of interacting with a child in a kind, concerned way that cannot be misconstrued. Cast for type and acting, voice, movement. Get as strong an actor as you can.

Hannigan – Anywhere from 30-50ish. One of life’s big losers. A drunk, a shrew, a woman without any love in her heart for any real people. Her only true love is radio soap opera, her great escape from a life she sees as unbearable. Exactly the wrong person to care for children, she deals with them with threats, starvation, beatings. BUT she must be comic, doing all this. It’s a tough job. Requires a very strong actress with well-developed comic ability, a strong voice, some movement.

Grace – Age 25-35, a young woman of great ability. A great organizer and listener, with a deeply practical mind, but a profoundly loving heart and well-developed sense of right and wrong. She’s one in a million. Should be lovely to boot. We should root for her. Cast for type, voice, acting, movement.

Roosevelt – Swell, it’s F.D.R., wheelchair and all. There’s a lot of film of the real man, so study it. This is F.D.R. In the Depression years, rather than during WWII. In the play, a beleaguered man desperate to find a way to save the country, and disliked by all. Get the right look, the right actor, if he sings a bit, swell.

Rooster – About Hannigan’s age, her brother. Vile, corrupt, slimy, tricky, capable of murder and lacking any conscience. Should be the big threat in the show, but must still entertain in his grimy way. Cast for type and acting, voice, movement.

Lily – Rooster’s girl, probably a prostitute. As scummy and gamey as he is. Cast for type and acting, voice, movement.

The Other Orphans – From ages 6-13, there are usually 6 of them. They should each be unique, and memorable. Look for different types. These are fair-sized roles, so try and work with reasonably experienced children. Cast for voice, the type and acting, then movement, but they will all need to sing and dance well.

Drake – Any age, really, but his sense of experience makes him at least mid-30s. Professional, smart, aware of his surroundings and his employer’s needs at all time. Imposing at first, until we see that he has a heart. An old softie at the end would be an interesting way to play him. Cast for type, acting.

Ensemble – Cast types you might see during the Depression. Bert Healy is a radio personality, over the top, glitzy. Should double in other roles, as should his other on-mic talent. All should sing well, dance well.

Sandy – Take a look at the famed drawings to see what he looks like. A wire-haired mutt. Man, this dog needs to be really trained and smart!!!

SETS:

The Orphanage dorm. Hannigan’s office. On the street, then Hooverville. Warbucks mansion. The White House. A radio studio with the actual audience serving as a “live audience.” This is a big show with lots of sets.

The dorm and Hannigan’s office should feel dirty, small, locked in. There’s no air in the place. These two sets, as one, could be set up as a dropped set about 1/2-way downstage, and Warbucks’ mansion set behind it.

An NYC street in the wrong part of town could be suggested with a streetlamp and a dirty brick wall.

Hooverville could be placed on the apron of a proscenium stage, or in front of a drop mid-stage if needed. A make-shift lean-to, a small “fire” in a steel barrel, that’s all you need. Maybe a make-shift clothesline with rags drying on it.

Warbuck’s palatial mansion should feel rich, detailed, three-dimensional, airy. One should not see a ceiling, they’re too high. Big windows opening out into the snow-lit world. He’s a billionaire in the 1930s, perhaps the equivalent of being a trillionaire today. He has only the greatest art on his walls, including the Mona Lisa and Blue Boy. This set should embrace the stage from the back, so other sets can be placed in front of it. Perhaps a massive staircase center or right, to provide levels for choreography.

The room in the White House. A long table, a long, white wall with art work on it, a fireplace, the President in a wheelchair. Could be just in front of the house, with the table rolled on.

Act II starts in the radio station, and it should be pushed to the front of the stage. Microphones on stands, some of the orchestra on stage and visible (in costume), the product logo on display in various places such as in front of the orchestra’s stands.

Keep the sets in period. Demonstrate the difference between wealth and poverty clearly and compellingly. A lot of dance will take place in that small, dingy orphanage, so give the actors levels to work with, like beds that can be danced on, or a desk in Hannigan’s office.

This is a fairly large job. Set houses might be helpful for some of the elements in the major locations, and for things like streetlamps in period.

COSTUMES:

Every costume should be in period, in character and in line with the economic status of each character. Warbucks and F.D.R. have the finest suits, as do the cabinet members. Hannigan still dreams of catching a man, and tries to look snazzy, but she is hopeless. Rooster and Lily go for flash, but they are tawdry.

Men wear hats, as do women, hats that are right for their station and personality.

Grace is a total pro, a killer in heels and a tight skirt for the period, but always discreet, always professional and in her job. She should look great, we should wonder all night why Warbucks doesn’t really see her, and she should also wonder the same.

Hannigan is blousy in color and cut, inattentive to the overall dishevelment of her look even as she straightens her hair.

Hooverville is earth tones, rags, distressed items. The people there live in dirt, and are covered in it. And orphans wear donated, second hand clothes. Annie’s dress is as famous as her hair, you will probably need to build it. And remember that the orphans need to dance and sing a lot in their clothes, they have to be able to breathe.

A robe for a Supreme Court Justice. Period police (two). Period F.B.I. (Has it changed at all?)

This might be a challenge because of the period.

PROPS:

Annie’s locket and letter. The locket Warbucks buys for Annie. Christmas gifts under a Christmas tree. A period telephone, high end. Several legal documents. Be aware of the period as you select or build pieces.

LIGHTING:

The lighting will need to pop to make up for the overall darkness of the show. The scenes in the orphanage should feel dully lit, until we get to a number. Annie gets a spotlight for “Tomorrow”, almost assuredly. There are likely to be a lot of cues built into large dance numbers, you’ll need a digital board if possible. The show should be well-lit, if unobtrusively.

MAKE-UP:

Dirt and grime for the orphans, Hooverville, Rooster and Lily. Hannigan is a drunk, perhaps a red nose, some bloating and puffiness in the face? Grace should look like a clean Goddess when she enters Hannigan’s. The contrast should be a surprise. The contrast grows with the clean, healthy look of Warbucks’ staff.

Your actor playing Roosevelt will perhaps need some prosthetics! If you don’t know how to do that, get some help. He has to look like F.D.R., as much as possible. This may be the hardest part of your job.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Annie, Warbucks, Hannigan.

MY THOUGHTS:

I don’t love this show. But I think it can be improved in delivery, as described above. I believe the show needs to be given more genuine heart by the production, less of the contrived and professionally manipulative pseudo-heart it currently wears on its sleeve throughout most of the evening.

This show also runs the risk, as do other nostalgia-based shows, of becoming a relic, a dinosaur. As we move farther and farther from Roosevelt and the Depression, this period will seem ever more quaint, and then finally, foreign. There are a lot of shows, better shows than Annie, that will become extinct over the next few decades for this reason. Campy shows that lampoon older periods of time or older theatrical or literary forms always run the risk of becoming outdated when the thing they lampoon loses its meaning and context for the audience. To which I say “Amen.” I hate camp. Let it die, the Musical Theater deserves better.

This show, however, could have a long and deserved life, if the contrived heart we hear in the song “Tomorrow” is softened and mitigated by real characters, real pain, real dirt and starvation. This is a show that could have a big heart, and that heart could keep beating for decades to come. Or not.