Executive producer Chris Montan (of Walt Disney) and executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan (of Storyline Entertainment) are re-teaming following their 1997 success with the ABC “Wonderful World of Disney” broadcast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”
Zadan told Playbill On-Line Feb. 9 that in the new $10 million TV movie -- expected to be shot in June in Los Angeles and aired in November 1999,- “Tomorrow” (sung over the title credits in the John Huston-directed film) will indeed be a major part of the plot again.
The show’s anthem number (reprised in Act Two) became an instant hit in 1977 and shot actress Andrea McArdle to national fame.
The Broadway song, “NYC,” not in the film, will also be part of the new TV movie, Zadan said. That number, a tour of 1930s New York City that helped bond Daddy Warbucks and Annie, was replaced in the 1982 film by “Let’s Go to the Movies,” a new number by composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin. The film also included new tunes “Sign,” “We Got Annie” and “Dumb Dog” and didn’t use Broadway’s “Annie,” “New Deal for Christmas,” “Something Was Missing,” “We’d Like to Thank You” and “You Won’t Be an Orphan For Long.” The new Annie teleplay is by Irene Mecchi, one of the contributing screenwriters of Disney’s animated “The Lion King,” “Hercules” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
No cast has been announced, but Zadan expects it to be “all-star” except for the title role of the orphan. The actress to play Little Orphan Annie, the red-haired moppet from the famous newspaper comic strips, will be found on a national casting search in the spring.
Why re-do Annie after Hollywood created a picture already?
“The movie was a huge disappointment, even to the writers,” Zadan said. “I felt the same way about the film version of Gypsy with Rosalind Russell.”
Zadan is one of the producers responsible for reinvigorating interest in the TV musical form with his TV movie of Gypsy starring Bette Midler in 1993.
“We’re not contemporizing Annie,’’ Zadan cautioned, adding that Annie will still be a fiercely optimistic red-headed orphan in Depression era Manhattan.
Mecchi and Marshall (Broadway’s Cabaret and Little Me) will work closely with the producers and songwriters, and Strouse and Charnin may write a few new numbers, Zadan said. When writing a TV movie, the script is cut into seven acts -- to accommodate commercial breaks -- rather than two, said Zadan.
“Most if not all of the original (Broadway) score” will be used, the producer suggested.
Annie won Tony Awards for Actress (Dorothy Loudon, beating McArdle), Book, Choreographer, Scenic Designer, Costume Designer, Musical and Score in 1977 and became a worldwide smash.
A 20th anniversary production, less lavish than the original, opened on Broadway in March 1997 starring Nell Carter as Annie’s nemesis, Miss Hannigan, the orphanage matron. A new song was written for Carter. A national tour continues into 1999 starring Sally Struthers.
"Annie,” the TV movie musical, is expected to air November 1999 on “The Wonderful World of Disney” in the same 7-9 PM Sunday period that was golden for “Cinderella” (in 1997).
And the future of the TV movie musical?
"What I would like to do is a number of these classics and then after we’ve got (the audience), really take the next step and start commissioning original musicals. The way to do it is to first get an audience, get the audience used to tuning in each year.”
Musical theatre buffs treasure Zadan’s authorized show-by-show document of the works of Stephen Sondheim, “Sondheim & Co.,” which, Zadan said, will have a new edition in the future.
-- By Kenneth Jones