The Nov. 7 "Wonderful World of Disney" presentation of "Annie," the TV musical, will have some surprises not in the original Broadway favorite, according to its executive producers.
Neil Meron and Craig Zadan of Storyline Entertainment, who partnered with executive producer Chris Montan of Disney for the project, told Playbill On-Line the TV movie musical will retain the heart and major story elements and songs of the 1977 tuner that gave us "Tomorrow." But there will be modifications, too.
Filming of the script by Irene Mecchi ended in early August and director Rob Marshall is in an accelerated post-production mode, putting the pieces together in time for an October release to media and a Nov. 7 broadcast.
Here's an update about the TV version of the musical that made a million little girls want to perform on Broadway:
• Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates, who plays orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, has terrific pipes, according to the producers. Zadan said her singing is so strong that, if she wanted it, the role of Mama Rose in Gypsy could certainly be played by her in the future. It was actor Victor Garber (Daddy Warbucks) who told producers Kathy Bates would be perfect for Miss Hannigan. He learned of her wish to do a musical while the two were filming "Titanic." • In order to maximize the vocal talent and presence of multiple Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, who plays Oliver Warbucks' personal assistant, Grace, the character now sings a reprise of "Tomorrow" in an effort to cheer a saddened Annie, who must leave "Daddy" Warbucks for her apparent birth parents. Meron and Zadan say the scene is an emotional high point.
• The producers predict a major career for Alicia Morton, the 12-year old who plays the title role. They say director Marshall has helped shape a performance that is real, with a minimum of sentiment. Morton was a recent Cosette in Broadway's Les Miserables.
• The musical number, "N.Y.C.," will include a walking tour of 1930s New York and Times Square that is part studio set and part matte shot special effect. In a rethinking of the Broadway conception of the song, Warbucks and Annie attend a Broadway musical called "Broadway Lullaby," Annie's first trip to the theatre. In the show within a show, Andrea McArdle (Broadway's original Annie) plays a "star-to-be" who arrives in the Big Apple with dreams of a showbiz career. In the original, Annie and Warbucks witnessed the girl's arrival on the street. Laurie Beechman played the part, singing, "N.Y.C.! Just got here this morning: Three bucks, two bags, one me." The song was not part of the movie version in 1982.
• The are ongoing negotiations for a soundtrack for the TV movie version. Disney is talking to Sony, which handles recording rights to the Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin score. One of the great frustrations of the Storyline producers (and thousands of fans) at the time of their ratings hit "Cinderella," also for "Wonderful World of Disney," was that recording contracts on competing labels for stars Brandy and Whitney Houston prevented the release of a soundtrack.
• Although there had been talk of a new song for the TV version, the 90 minute airtime (two hours including commercials) prevented it, Zadan and Meron said. Songs from the Broadway score that will be missing in the TV version are "You Won't Be an Orphan for Long" and "Annie" (both sung by Warbucks' staff), "We'd Like to Thank You" and "A New Deal for Christmas" (although the climax of the TV movie is at Christmas, not the Fourth of July, as in the feature film). The TV score will include "Maybe," "It's the Hard-Knock Life," "Tomorrow," "Little Girls," "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," "N.Y.C.," "Easy Street," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," "Something Was Missing" and "I Don't Need Anything But You."
The new "Annie" cast also includes Ernie Sabella as laundryman Mr. Bundles and Tony Award winners Kristin Chenoweth (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) as Lily St. Regis and Alan Cumming (Cabaret) as Rooster Hannigan. Filming began June 22 in Los Angeles and ended in early August.
Rob Marshall (Broadway's Cabaret and Little Me) makes his TV directing debut with the project. He also choreographs.
Executive producer 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." Mary Kay Powell of Rastar Productions will executive produce and Brad Krevoy will co produce.
-- By Kenneth Jones