One of the first in the Columbia Broadway Masterworks series of reissues, Annie set a standard that later reissues have not entirely lived up to. The CD is essential, not just because it records a skillful and popular score, but because it gives the listener an unusually lengthy and clear-eyed look into the creation of a Broadway musicals. If you're a fan of Annie, this is absolutely the recording you should get. If you're interested in musicals, you should get this CD even if you aren't wild about the show. The bonus tracks are worth it.
Recommend this product?
This incredibly successful musical started out in the mind of Martin Charnin, the director and lyricist. He was drawn to the Depression era cartoon character because she represented optimism and determination, two qualities that were sadly missing in the Watergate era that spawned the show. He had a hard time convincing his collaborators, Thomas Meehan and Charles Strouse that they wanted to write a musical about a campy cartoon character who was most famous for the lack of pupils in her eyes. Strouse had good reason to be leery- his earlier musical about Superman had been a bomb, even with the excellent score he had composed. Persistence, however, is Charnin's strongest suit, and he eventually won out.
The story is about Annie, who lives in an orphanage run by the nasty Miss Hannigan. Annie believes that her parents will come for her one day and runs away to try to find them. Fortunately, she is arrested and returned just as Grace Farrell, secretary to billionaire Oliver Warbucks, arrives to pick up an orphan for Christmas. She chooses Annie, who inspires Warbucks to adopt her. Annie, however, wants her real parents, so Warbucks launches a national search for them. Miss Hannigan and her brother Rooster scheme to get the promised reward money.
The show was a monster hit on Broadway, in London, and in countless regional productions. The 1982 movie is loved by many people who saw it as children, but it generally not admired by fans of the Broadway show because it made some odd changes in the score and tossed out a lot of the sweetness of the original in favor of big budget movie clichés. For most shows that would be the end of the story, but then most shows aren't Martin Charnin's meal ticket. He spent years trying to get a sequel produced. Once it was, he devoted himself to a pointless revival of the original- Annie had never really gone away, so a revival was premature. Finally, there was the 1999 Disney television production, more faithful to the show than the first movie, but very short. Naturally, both the revival and the television production cut most of the show's slight but liberal political content.
The Strouse and Charnin score is a model of professionalism. It lacks a love story at its core, but this is otherwise quintessential, conventional Broadway. The genius here is not in individual moments, but in the craftsmanship of the whole package. This may be why the Overture, excitingly orchestrated by Philip Lang is by far my favorite part of the score.
The songs make solid, simple points: Annie wants her parents, the orphans have it rough, Miss Hannigan hates little girls, etc. They work because Strouse's melodies are able to set, sustain, and develop a mood. The pounding vamp of "It's the Hard-Knock Life" suggests both monotony and labor. "Easy Street" is divided between a very free verse and a sensuous chorus, giving the villains both self-indulgence and sex. Many songs need to sparkle with excitement, and the variety of ways that Strouse makes this happen is impressive.
The Bonus Tracks
Seven songs from an early version of Annie are included on this release and, for me, they are the most exciting part (apart from the first public performance of "Tomorrow," a song I've already heard too many times.) Performed by Strouse and Charnin, the tracks illustrate just how well-constructed the show is by showing some misfires.
"Apples" was the original opening number. A solid song, it worked to establish the Depression setting by showing a group of apple sellers who would never be seen again. Although the somewhat similar "We'd Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover" remained in the show, this opening delayed the appearance of the heroine for too long and was cut. "We Got Anne" replaced "Annie" in the movie. Here, it is sung toward the top of the show by a group of poor folk who love the child. It comes too close to telling us to adore her before she has done anything to earn it.
The tune for "Just Wait" would become Miss Hannigan's "Little Girls." The early version is about how she will punish Annie and it lacks the comedy of the later song. Another Hannigan tune "T hat's the Way it Goes" was replaced by "Easy Street." The older one is a lot of fun, with intersecting and counterpointing vocal lines, but, as Charnin points out in his notes, it doesn't really evoke the 1930s.
The last two cut songs, which dramatize the search for Annie's parents, are by far the least interesting. Charnin even apologizes, and rightly so, for the awful song about competing pairs of false parents.
This recording documents two outstanding performances. Andrea McArdle is by far the best Annie I've ever heard. For one thing, she's old enough to have the developed the vocal power that the role requires (since the movie, Annie's just keep getting younger and younger.) McArdle's clarion voice and excellent pitch make her songs exciting and keep the more sentimental of them from getting maudlin.
The real star of the show, though was Dorthy Loudon, an actress whose unique vocal style and manic comic energy turn the adequate comic song "Little Girls" into a showstopper. The abrupt but seamless changes she manages both there and in "Easy Street" put her performance in the league of Nancy Walker, another actress whose vocal technique is simultaneously hilarious and musically thrilling.
Among the supporting cast, Reid Shelton's Warbucks is superbly gruff in "NYC" but sounds somewhat strained in his ballad "Something Was Missing." Sandy Faison has an operetta style which I find both a little grating and perfect for the character of the prim Grace Farrell. Best of all is Laurie Beechman, whose brief solo in "NYC" would be the high point of a tragically short career.
The two pages of new notes by Charnin, which analyze the bonus tracks, are excellent. The rest of the notes are reprinted from the LP.
Read all comments (1)