Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Love The Musical Annie, And I Don't Care Who Knows It!

Yes, that's right; I love the musical Annie. Cynics may find the show sappy and overly-sentimental, but I love it.

If you are not familiar with Annie, it is the story of an optimistic orphan searching for the parents who left her at a New York City orphanage when she was a baby. After living under the thumb of the wicked woman, Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage, Annie eventually gets the opportunity to stay for two weeks at the home of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, but he is so taken with her, he decides to adopt her permanently. What Annie wants most, however, is to find her parents, and so Warbucks does his best to do so. If you don't know the story, I won't spoil it here for you, but I may spoil some key plot points later in this post, so be forewarned.

There is a very special place in my heart for the musical Annie. I grew up with the show, and it is directly responsible for two of the most important decisions I have made in my life.

When I was ten, I saw the third national tour of Annie at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City. It made a huge impression on me. I loved it, and I remember thinking as I watched it, wide-eyed and enthralled, "I want to do what those people are doing."

The previous year I had co-starred in a third grade production of a moral tale based very loosely on The Music Man, and I had enjoyed it very much and was starting to take a real interest in acting. My mom and grandma often took me to plays and musicals. I remember attending the Young People's Theatre series at Pioneer Memorial at the University of Utah and seeing such shows as Winnie the Pooh. I think my family had season tickets to the Promised Valley Playhouse, and I remember seeing Mister Roberts, Kiss Me, Kate, and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, among others. I think Annie, though, was the show that cemented in my mind what I wanted to do for a living, if it was at all possible. My ten year-old brain and soul just knew that's what I wanted to do, and according to my Mom, I never deviated from that path once I had made my mind up (probably because there were a bunch of kids on stage, and I thought, if they can do it, why not me?).

My dad had quite a collection of Broadway albums such as Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Carousel, and Damn Yankees. We also had an eight-track tape of the movie version of Cabaret that I listened to so much that somebody in my family (probably my brother) finally hid it to give everyone's ears a rest. I also think if my parents had understood what some of the songs were about, they probably wouldn't have let me listened to it at all, and I, myself, was quite shocked to understand the true meaning of these songs from my childhood when I finally saw Cabaret when I was in college. But an album I listened to a lot was Annie, which I assume we got after we saw the touring production (but maybe we got it before because the Broadway production had come out three and a half years earlier). I think it was my sister's album.

With all the enjoyment I got out of listening to Annie, I should have known I was gay right then and there, but of course, I didn't even know what "gay" was yet. I loved the Overture to Annie, starting with the two horns playing a snatch of "Tomorrow" and then going into the rousing "It's a Hard-Knock Life," which is still one of my favorite songs, and then moving on to "Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" and "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover" and then finishing with the anthem of the show, "Tomorrow." I still am whisked away to my childhood whenever I hear that overture, and the actual song "Tomorrow" still brings a tear to my eye, not only because of it's message, but because it reminds me of the lost innocence of childhood.

The album then continues with "Maybe," sung by the only person who will truly ever be Annie to me, Andrea McArdle. I think "Maybe" is such a sweet song; the plaintive plea of an innocent girl pinning her hopes on being reunited with her parents.

The next song is "It's a Hard-Knock Life," sung very exuberantly by a gaggle of girls. I've always loved the tune, and it was one I listened to over and over, even though I couldn't make out all of the lyrics.

Then there's the beautiful "Tomorrow." Yes, I know it's over-sung and overdone. It may come across as trite and treacly, but I love it. I love the idea that this girl is in the worst situation she can be in: an orphan abandoned by her parents, living an unfair life under the thumb of an abusive and tyrannical caretaker, in the worst of times, the Depression, on the street in the middle of winter with no coat next to a stray dog singing about how you gotta keep your chin up because as long as you hang on to hope and know that even though today is "gray and lonely," there's the sure knowledge that "the sun'll come up tomorrow," and that tomorrow is "only a day away."

I love her optimism. I consider myself an optimist. Especially in our current economy and current political climate, it would be really easy to get cynical and down-hearted, but I'm with Annie on this: "you gotta hang on 'til tomorrow" because things will get better. I believe that.

And then came my favorite song on the album (which is still my favorite, I think, simply because I've always loved the tune): "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover." I listened to that one over and over, and I remember when I saw the 1982 movie version of Annie, being absolutely livid that they had cut that song out and replaced it with an absolute "dog" of a song (pun intended): "Dumb Dog."

In fact, while I'm there, I have to say that I pretty much hate the movie Annie as much as I love the original stage version.

I'm sure some of you who are younger than me and grew up with the movie version rather than the stage version will disagree, but I think the movie is the poor bastard cousin of the original, and this is unfortunate because it has so much that should have made it good. I love the casting: Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, Albert Finney, Anne Reinking, Edward Hermann. Legendary director (although one who had never directed a musical): John Huston. Great source material to work with: the original Broadway production won seven Tonys, including best musical, best book, best score, and best choreography, and justifiably so. The score is one of my favorites and the book is very well-written (and you really can't say that about all musicals). But the movie just takes a good thing and ruins it, in my opinion.

My thought has always been, "Why would you take something that was so successful and wasn't broken and try to "fix" it with a lot of unnecessary crap?" First off, some great songs are replaced by far more inferior ones. Instead of "NYC", you get "Let's Go to the Movies." Instead of "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover," you get the atrocious "Dumb Dog" and "Sandy." Instead of "You Won't Be An Orphan for Long," you get the insipid "We Got Annie." The unnecessary "Sign" takes the place of one of the "Easy Street"s. "Annie" is replaced by another version of the stupid "We Got Annie." The show's main theme, "Tomorrow," is nearly relegated to the back burner. One of the stage version's most touching songs, "Something Was Missing" is completely cut out as is "A New Deal for Christmas" (and even Christmas itself is replaced by the 4th of July, and I really think the show loses some of its magic in doing so).

Miss Hannigan is made out to be a hero in the end of the movie instead of the villain she remains in the stage version. There's a silly and unnecessarily chase scene designed to make the show have more action. And don't get me started on the unnecessary additions of Punjab and the Asp, who were only added because they were in the original "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip, but serve no useful purpose since they aren't in the stage version at all.

And I don't really care for Aileen Quinn's performance as Annie, which is unfortunate since she is, after all, the focus of the movie. I just find her kind of obnoxious rather than endearing. Plus, scenes from the play are switched around, and since the original book is so well-crafted, the movie ends up just coming out more of a mess than anything. Not a fan.

Back to the album: after "Herbert Hoover" comes the wonderful "Little Girls" (still a favorite song) sung by the terrific Dorothy Loudon, who will always be Miss Hannigan to me. I agree she could be a bit of a ham, but I also think there is a very good reason she won Best Supporting Actress for this role.

Then you get the delightful and fun "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here." Following that is "NYC," which I admit to skipping as a kid because it started out too slow and I didn't particularly like Reid Shelton's voice. However, today I quite like "NYC." It's a fun and vibrant arrangement that I think captures city life well.

Oh, and then "Easy Street." What an absolutely terrific number. So fun! Definitely a highlight of the show. I actually wish the stage version wasn't as broken up as it is (with dialogue between each verse) and was instead presented as it is on the album. I felt lucky to see a recording of this number when it was performed on the Tonys.

Then there's "You Won't Be An Orphan for Long," which may not be the strongest number, but is still a lot of fun. Next is "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," which I admit I didn't fully understand as a kid. However, both the radio version and the orphan version are fun to listen to. I think the former really captures that early 30s singing style.

Then you get the "Tomorrow Reprise," which I always found quite humorous as a kid. Then there's "Something Was Missing." I also admit I skipped over this song as a kid. Too slow and, again, Reid Shelton. Now, however, I think it's one of the most touching and beautiful songs in the show. The melody is gorgeous. I love it (and yes, I like Reid Shelton's voice now, too).

Then there's "I Don't Need Anything But You," which is fun and bouncy.

Then you've got "Annie," which I admit is probably one of the weaker songs on the album, but I still like it (and certainly like it better than the movie's more stupid version, "We Got Annie"). The final lyrics of the song, though, are still a mystery to me.

And then there's the underrated finale, "A New Deal for Christmas," which sounds very Christmas-y, but I also feel like some the lyrics are not Martin Charnin's best, but then I do think Martin Charnin has several lyrical problems in the show. Still, I like the song, even though it's the one I didn't listen to much as a kid.

I remember looking at the pictures inside the album. They were small, and there was one for each song, but I remember being especially impressed that they so closely resembled the scenes I had seen in the touring company's version (not realizing it was patterned exactly after the Broadway version).

I wore out that album as a kid. In fact, I think we bought another copy because I scratched up the old one. But I loved it and still do. I can listen to it over and over and not get sick of it. There isn't a song in the show that I don't like now. Very catchy and fun.

I like some of the themes in the show. I like that Annie's presence makes the lives of almost everyone around her better: her fellow orphans, the down-trodden residents of the Hooverville she encounters; the stray dog who finally gets adopted; the tough millionaire whose heart she penetrates; his staff, who grow to love her as their own; President Roosevelt and his staff, who create the New Deal supposedly because of her, which in turn changes the lives of many of her fellow Americans. I just like the message that one person can make a difference simply with their positive attitude.

I also like the idea that what Annie wishes and hopes for most in the world (to be reunited with her parents) - the thing she thinks will ultimately give her the greatest happiness - is not really what brings her happiness at all.

I like that it's a love story between a father and a daughter.

I like that it breaks the rule about kids and animals and hinges one scene on both.

I like that the show is often used as a vehicle to adopt homeless dogs (the dogs are experiencing the Annie story in their own lives).

I like how the music makes me feel.

I like the influence the show has had on my very career and my relationship with the man who is now my husband.

For yes, Annie was also very instrumental in helping me find Jonah. 23 years after I saw Annie for the first time, I was cast in a production of it in a role I coveted, that of the villain, Rooster. Jonah was the dresser for the actress playing Miss Hannigan, and because I played Miss Hannigan's brother, Jonah and I ended up spending some time together.

I remember when I was cast in Annie, I almost felt as though my life as an actor had come full-circle. Here I was playing a great part, a part I wanted, in the show that helped me decide I wanted to be an actor in the first place. But never could I have dreamed it would also help me find the man who has brought me such joy and happiness in my life; the man who I chose to be with when I thought love had eluded me forever; the man who helped me be who I am happiest being. Perhaps that's why I love Annie most of all.

I am now doing another production of Annie. I'm playing a different part, but one I am enjoying very much. Going to work is a joy. It never feels like work. It feels like fun every day. I love listening to the score while I'm off stage and singing the score when I'm on stage. I never get sick of it. In fact, I venture to say that I could probably do this show for a while if I had to, and I cannot say that about all the shows I am in (in fact, I can't say it about most shows because I get bored too easily). But this one is a pleasure. I am thoroughly enjoying it, and it reminds me each day how very lucky and fortunate I am to be doing what I do for a living. I will be sad to see it go.

An irony is that once this production ends, I have nothing on the horizon until at least April. But that also means I get to go home to Jonah, and that we will spend the longest amount of time together since our commitment ceremony. Although I hope I will find a job soon, I am looking very, very forward to being home with my husband for a good amount of time. I have missed him very much, and am looking forward to some quality time with him and our three cats.

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