by the Rev. Msgr. Kevin M. Wallin
On August 10, 1976 Annie had its world premier at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. It was a less than auspicious occasion. Scenery fell, actors got hurt and few present believe that the show would succeed. In addition, the critics were not enthusiastic. However, the charm and clever musicality of the show prevailed. The public were excited and Annie was to go on to Broadway and London and eventually to join the ranks of classical American musicals. In honor of Annie's twentieth anniversary, Goodspeed has mounted a new production under the direction of Martin Charnin, who also directed and wrote the lyrics for the original Goodspeed and Broadway productions.
In the current revival, the costumes, lighting and in particular the sets are all designed to remind one that Annie is a comic strip. Much of the show is done in shades of gray to simulate newsprint. Coincidentally, these creative elements also serve to remind the audience that the action takes place during the great depression. The occasional use of highly stylized choreography, including some "frozen" action, adds to this comic strip effect.
The particular charm of this production is the central role played by orphans. Clearly the seven little girls in the cast are its greatest asset. They are adorable and their performances entertaining. Indeed, they provide the best musical number in the show, the second act's "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile." If Annie is about the indomitable character of the human spirit, then these girls radiate that message with zest and sincerity. The element of hope which they portray, so central to the show's theme, come to life when they are on stage.
Message of Hope
There is no message more christian than that of hope. Our belief in the saving death and resurrection of the Lord is only sustained in hope. That virtue that keep us going even when life is dark and difficult. Although presented in purely secular terms, that religious message pervades this show. Moreover, one of Annie's strengths is that that message is taught by children who, in turn, inspire adults. It makes one mindful of Jesus' encouragement in the Gospel when He urges His followers to develop child-like faith and trust in God. This may be a "funny page" story, but its truth is real.
The difficulty with reviving shows which have captured the American imagination in their original format is that the audience has a preconceived image of the show before the curtain goes up. When that image is tampered with, the audience is often distracted and sometimes disappointed. I must admit that I felt that way at times with this production. Too much of my attention was given over to mental comparisons with more "traditional" renditions. That would have been acceptable if the new concepts and techniques presented here were improvements upon the original. I am not sure they all were and so I found myself wishing for something more traditional at a few points in the course of the evening. However, that did not detract from the fact that Annie has a marvelously inspired book, tuneful music and memorable lyrics. Just hearing them perform live is a treat.
This is a show with a universal and enduring message for everyone.