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

Thomas Meehan
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Kerr, who had written the review that had "broken" Strouse, came back after the show opened on Broadway.

"But there's a really good punch line to this story," said Charnin, who has a lot of good punch lines. "Three weeks after we opened in New York, he re-reviewed the show and said he was wrong."

"That was classy," commented Meehan.

"It was very classy," agreed Strouse. "He said we got our politics straight."

Happy ending. And the show ran six years, and has since been produced all over the world, and on every level of stage, from Broadway (where it is now playing, in a new production by James Lapine) to schools, stock and community theatres. Annie is staged hundreds of times every year. So, of all the productions they're seen, which is their favorite?

"First one," said Meehan, without pausing.

"First one," said Charnin, immediately after.

Strouse hesitates. "My memory fails me. Martin has done many of them."

"I've directed 19 productions of the show," said Charnin. That includes the premiere. "But still my favorite is the first one. My second favorite is the one I saw my daughter in, in high school. She was one of the orphans."

"I like this production very much," added Strouse. "It's as if you have a child. Annie is our child. And another family adopts her. You're never going to be totally pleased with the hat they've put on her. But I think that James [Lapine] has done a wonderful job."

One "hat" the collaborators will never be happy with is the one producer Ray Stark and director John Huston put on the ragamuffin for the 1982 movie of the musical. They still hate the film as much as they did 30 years ago.

"I think it's preposterous," said Charnin.

"I never liked it," said Meehan.

"It's terrible," continued Charnin. "How can you like it? It's cock-eyed."

"Ray Stark, who produced it," added Meehan, "decided he's going to release it in the summer, so the story has to take place in the summer. Which is really weird."

"He said it's very expensive to make snow," said Strouse.

"The story's all about the ultimate day of Christmas for a child," said Meehan. "And in his movie, the ultimate day is the Fourth of July, with Miss Hannigan riding around on a elephant. In the musical, we had a half-dozen little orphan girls shivering in the cold. But look at his movie."

"There are dozens of girls having pillow fights, cartwheeling," said Charnin, "having the best time in the world."

Martin Charnin
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Also kind of cock-eyed-sounding is rapper Jay-Z's plan to make a new movie of Annie, set in the present day, and featuring new songs penned by himself. Jay-Z seemingly has an enduring interest in the show. He incorporated the song "It's the Hard Knock Life" into his 1998 song "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," which remains one of the biggest hits of his career.

"What happened was, he made the song, and then he had to call my publishers to OK it," explained Strouse. "And we agreed. He was big at the time, but not that big. That was his biggest record. He thinks it's only the rap angle. He doesn't think it's the tune. I maintain it's something in our tune that helped it." Meehan, quiet as always, quietly agreed.

Meehan passed on writing the script for the new movie, which has been in the works for a couple years. "I wouldn't try to write an Annie that takes place today," he explained. "I don't feel I'd be the right person to do that."

Strouse, however, would like a chance at penning the new songs. "He's contracted to only use six of the songs," said Strouse. "He wants to write new songs. I said to him, we would like a crack at it."

"This one's going to be extremely different," said Charnin. "He's doing it as a contemporary piece. I'm reserving all kinds of judgment. You never know what's going to happen. I don't know specifically what they're up to, and I don't know how they're going to translate it to today. I really don't. I don't know what their plot is. If they're making it today, none of our '30s detail is applicable."

And so the improbable life of Annie continues well on into the 21st century. The show has fostered the careers of dozens on actresses who got their first shot of being theatre pros by playing Annie and her orphan friends. Alyssa Milano. Sarah Jessica Parker. Molly Ringwald. Catherine Zeta-Jones. The list goes on.

"A lot of the kids write to me all the time," said Charnin, "and I keep up with them. A lady name Nancy Carson began here entire casting career because of the girls she sent to us at Annie." There was no glut of stage-ready little girls in 1977. Only boys, because of Oliver!

The show, it could be argued, gives lie to the old showbiz saying about never performing with children or animals. Annie, after all, has both.

"No," corrected Charnin. "It proved you should perform with children AND dogs."