SECOND FLOOR OF SARDI'S With Martin Charnin, Thomas Meehan and Charles Strouse: A Drink with the Annie Creators

By Robert Simonson
21 Mar 2013

Martin Charnin
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

It's clear all three men love New York, and feel comfortable in the city. They put that affection for the town in the musical that remains one of the most successful, if not the most successful, entry on their respective resumes. "One thing about Annie, there's no New York in the comic strip," Meehan pointed out. "There's occasionally a city they'd call Metropolis. It took place all over the country and world. We thought, when we were doing the musical, what place do we know best? New York. So we made it in New York. And they wrote the song 'N.Y.C' and celebrated New York."

"They" are lyricist Charnin and composer Strouse, who wrote the score. Meehan — long before his 21st-century boom years of The Producers and Hairspray and many other shows — wrote the libretto.

Charnin's clearly the lynchpin in the Annie story. It was he who became entranced with the forgotten, Depression-era comic and optioned it from the Tribune Company, which owned the rights to the property. Strouse and Meehan weren't as enraptured.

"My father read the Herald-Tribune," told Strouse, "and 'Little Orphan Annie' was in that, so I read it. But nobody liked 'Little Orphan Annie.'"

"I never liked it," echoed Meehan.

"I wanted 'Dick Tracy.' I liked the actions ones," said Strouse.

Well, who did like "Little Orphan Annie"?

"Girls, probably," offered Meehan, who stopped short of saying the comic strip probably had cooties. "The artwork was quite good. A lot of it was very dark and Dickensian, which we took up on, in the show."

Eventually, Charnin wore down their objections.

Charles Strouse
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"For me, it took more, because I had done Superman, which was, as far as we know, the first musical based on a cartoon, and it failed," explained Strouse. "I thought, and still do, that it's very good. So I thought I shouldn't get involved in this. Martin was an old friend. But Tom is such a nice guy, I thought I would enjoy working with him. He spoke very quietly. I didn't know anything about him." [Incidentally, Strouse's musical with lyricist Lee Adams, It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman, is getting an Encores! concert revival, now through March 24.]

"I knew Martin because we both worked in television," said Meehan. "I knew Charles' reputation. When Martin said Charles Strouse was interested, I thought, 'Wait a second…'"

"I never knew this," said Strouse, suddenly interested. "Oh, come on!"

Could Charnin have done one those classic showbiz moves, in which one artist is told, as an enticement, that the other's on board, and vice versa?

"I think it was," said Strouse.

"He went back and forth," agreed Meehan.

"That's the way we did Golden Boy, by the way," recalled Strouse, of his show with Lee Adams. "The producer, Hillard Elkins, asked us, 'Would you be interested in doing a musical of Golden Boy?' We said, 'Absolutely, we would love it!' Then he asked Sammy Davis if he'd be interested in doing it. He said no. Elkins said, 'What if Clifford Odets did the book?' And Sammy said, 'Yeah!' They he said to Clifford Odets, 'Would you be interested in doing a musical of Golden Boy?' 'No.' 'What if Sammy Davis did it?' 'Yeah!' We were kind of dragged along."