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Matinee Memories: Annie

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Actress Andrea McArdle as Annie w. Sandy in a scene from the Broadway production of the musical "Annie." (1977) Actress Andrea McArdle as Annie w. Sandy in a scene from the Broadway production of the musical "Annie." (1977) In my "real" life, I work here at the Morningside Heights Library, but outside of work, theater is my "thing." And, everyone says if you are going to write a blog, it should be about something you feel passionately about. So, every other Wednesday (hopefully) I plan to share some of my favorite theater-going memories and experiences, and point you towards some library materials that relate to those experiences. It will be interesting to see if readers share my tastes, and hopefully I can introduce you to new plays, musicals, actors or writers you may not know.

I consider myself lucky in that my parents introduced me to theater at a young age, and in the right way. Like many people of my generation, the first Broadway show I saw was Annie, when I was 10. My father brought home the LP well in advance of our attendance, and by the time we saw the show, I knew all the songs by heart. And, like every ten year old girl in that audience, I wanted to BE Andrea McArdle, who played the title role. Over the years, Annie's reputation as a show has suffered, I think, due to a combination of overexposure, and the perception that it is "only a kids' show." But, the score and the book for Annie are far more sophisticated than people give it credit for being. The book marked the Broadway debut of Tom Meehan, who went on to write many successful Broadway shows, including The Producers. And, the score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, includes "Tomorrow," which is probably the most over-exposed song in all of musical theater, but also contains some really well crafted songs like "Little Girls," sung originally by the enormously gifted Dorothy Loudon, "Easy Street," and "We'd Like To Thank You," which are decidedly NOT kiddie songs.

Annie is back on Broadway now, and because I wanted to introduce my nine year-old niece to the show, I decided I would see it. In the past 30 years, I've only seen one other production of Annie, because I didn't want anything to tarnish my memories of the original production. Perhaps predictably, I had a fairly negative reaction to this revival. I didn't care for director James Lapine's supposedly "edgy" interpretation of the material, and while Peter Gennaro's choreography in the original production was so memorable, I found Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography bland and messy. Last week, Jane Lynch of "Glee" fame stepped into the role of Miss Hannigan. Personally, this "stunt casting" sends me running in the opposite direction, so I won't be revisiting the show, but if it encourages someone else to re-evaluate it or see it for the first time, so be it. And, I am glad the revival is here, if only because I got to share the experience with my niece, who did love the show.

If you have steered clear of Annie because of its saccharine reputation or because you once saw some reallly bad community theater production, I highly recommend giving a listen to the Original Broadway Cast Album; you just may be surprised. Also, if you want to better understand hold this particular show has on women of my generation, check out Life After Tomorrow, a fascinating documentary that features interviews with many of the women who played the original orphans either on Broadway or in a subsequenting touring company of the show. They talk about how the show changed their lives, changed Broadway, and about the joys and perils of being "famous" at such a young age. Lastly, for an even more intimate and first hand account of the show's development and impact, you can peruse Dorothy Loudon's personal papers, in some of which she reminisces about her journey with Annie, at the Performing Arts Library or in this online exhibition.

I will always love Annie, because it's the show that began a lifelong love of theater; the first one that left an indelible impression. After more than three decades of theater-going, there are shows that I love more now, but Annie was the first, and will always hold a special place in my heart. Are you an Annie friend or foe? And, do you have a show that started it all for you? Let me know.

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