Annie Creator Martin Charnin Has a New Comic Strip Musical, and Two Unlikely Collaborators

News   Annie Creator Martin Charnin Has a New Comic Strip Musical, and Two Unlikely Collaborators Martin Charnin, the lyricist who co-created the musical Annie, inspired by the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," returns to the funny papers for inspiration for his new musical, Broom-Hilda.
Lyricist Martin Charnin (right) with Maureen McGovern
Lyricist Martin Charnin (right) with Maureen McGovern Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The tale of the portly witch will have lyrics by Charnin and contributions by two surprise writers: Kurt Andersen, former editor of New York magazine, will write the libretto, while the treasure-chest of late composer Leroy Anderson is being dipped into for the score.

Writer-illustrator Russell Myers created "Broom-Hilda" and her pals — a troll and a buzzard — in 1970, and it continues to be seen in papers around the world.

Composer Anderson died in 1975 and remains beloved for his specialty concert compositions, including "The Typewriter" and "Sleigh Ride." His one Broadway musical, Goldilocks, written with Jean and Walter Kerr, is cherished by musical theatre fans who got to know the obscure score via cast album and a later CD release of it.

"I optioned this three years ago and never had an opportunity to really work on it until, I guess, two years ago," Charnin told Playbill On-Line. "Broom Hilda [is] syndicated and still running in about 150 papers."

How did Leroy Anderson come into the mix? "I was looking for a composer," Charnin admitted. "I needed a composer who had both melody and wit to support this material. He spent a lifetime doing all these amazing instrumentals that are part of the American musical fabric."

The Leroy Anderson family, which sponsors an informative website, www.leroyanderson.com, offered Charnin access to the catalog of music.

"I think this is the most extraordinary music, and it could be set to lyrics," Charnin said. "I have set 17 lyrics to existing Leroy Anderson music: 'Blue Tango,' 'Syncopated Clock' — they're all different titles and they are all going into this Broom-Hilda musical."

Charnin said he hopes to have a reading of the dawning material in summer 2004, and is aiming for production in 2006. The goal, of course, would be Broadway, where Annie became a smash in 1977.

What's Broom-Hilda about?

"It's a very complicated, magical musical," Charnin teased.

According to www.comicspage.com, "Living in an enchanted forest with surrealistic landscapes, the engaging characters of 'Broom-Hilda' happily have no connection with reality. Other comic characters are extensions or distortions of reality, but 'Broom-Hilda' deals in pure fantasy, making the strip bewitchingly unique. Here in the forest, the inhabitants maintain a standard of madness where total irrelevance is the only relevancy. The strip is simply a loony-bin where what’s said and done often makes no sense whatsoever, much to the joy of its millions of fans."

The site bills the green witch as "ornery," "cantankerous" and "love-starved."

Tribune Media Services syndicates the strip.

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According to his bio on leroyanderson.com, "composer Leroy Anderson was born on June 29, 1908 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Swedish immigrants. He earned his B.A. (magna cum laude) and M.A. in music at Harvard, where in the '30s, he was director of the Harvard University Band. His clever arrangements brought him to the attention of Arthur Fiedler, music director of the Boston Pops, who encouraged him to write original compositions for the orchestra. The first was 'Jazz Pizzicato,' written in 1938.

"During World War II, the Army made use of Anderson's fluency in languages. He served as a translator and interpreter in Iceland beginning in 1942. Later Anderson wrote 'The Syncopated Clock' while working as Chief of the Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence at the Pentagon.

"Fiedler continued to premiere Anderson's works, until 1950, including 'Fiddle-Faddle' and 'Trumpeter's Lullaby.' After that, his pieces, including the 1952 No. 1 hit 'Blue Tango,' received their first performances when recorded by the composer for Decca Records.

"Anderson wrote his most ambitious work, 'Piano Concerto in C,' in 1953. He withdrew the work after its premiere, intending to make changes in the first movement. He wrote his Broadway musical Goldilocks in 1958 with Jean and Walter Kerr.

"He married Eleanor Firke in 1942. The Andersons moved to Woodbury, CT, where they raised a family of four children. Leroy conducted orchestras throughout North America and continued to compose and conduct his music until his death in 1975."

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