Tomorrow, tomorrow

Saturday, December 23rd, 2006 | All Things, Arts, Family

Jug and the Entertainer treated the family to see Annie at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. The musical — or more accurately, the 1982 film version — was one of the first movies I remember all of us seeing together as a family, so this particular production had some sentimental value. My parents bought us the soundtrack (on cassette tape, of course), which the three kids would play over and over on the portable stereo in the family kitchen.

This three-week limited engagement, part of the 30th anniversary touring revival, stars erstwhile Regis Philbin co-host Kathie Lee Gifford mugging mightily as boozy floozy Miss Agatha Hannigan (memorably inhabited by Carol Burnett in the movie.) J and I snickered at the unintended irony of Gifford ordering young orphans to work after (in)famously becoming embroiled in the Wal-Mart/Honduran sweatshop controversy.

Critics were split over the quality of the show — the Times gave generally favorable marks; the Post liked it somewhat less — which was staged by Martin Charnin, who wrote the show’s lyrics and directed its 1977 Broadway production to seven Tony awards. As holiday fare, though, the quality hardly mattered: every seat in the cavernous Theater was sold, most to families with very small children. I wonder how Mom and Dad felt about accompanying their three decidedly not-so-small children, and two of their spouses. The Charles Strouse-composed tunes were as catchy as ever — “Tomorrow”, “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” — and we could not help but be charmed by the sheer enthusiasm of the able and often adorable orphan cast.

Annie at MSG

MSG Theater

JE missed the four songs composed for the movie that were not in this stage production: “Dumb Dog”, “Let’s Go to the Movies”, “Sign” and “We Got Annie“. In their place: “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover”, “Why Should I Change a Thing?”,”You Won’t be an Orphan for Long”, “Something was Missing”, “New Deal for Christmas” and Strouse and Charnin’s valentine to New York City, “N.Y.C”. Columbia Pictures purchased the rights to the stage production in 1978 for a then-record $9 million, no doubt prompted by the enormous popularity of Grease, which proved that movie musicals could still generate big box office. In a summer movie field crowded by the likes of E.T., Rocky III, Star Trek II (WOK) and Poltergeist, Annie took in a respectable $57 million, but at a reported cost of $50 million, the film was considered a disappointment for the studio.

The film was directed by John Huston(!), his first and only attempt at a film musical. (Reminds me that I’ve yet to see Huston’s final film, The Dead, which is often cited as one of the best holiday films of all time.)

To be fair, Annie is not one of the finest examples of American musical theatre. Although the tunes are peppy and memorable enough to be recognizable, the songs have not entered the popular music canon — Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) notwithstanding. Yet the show continues to be beloved and popular, especially with touring, local and community productions. Why? Kids and dogs, either of which has enormous power to win over an audience. The biggest cheers in this afternoon’s matinee were reserved not for Gifford, but for the shaggy mutt playing Sandy.

The show — which ran for 2,377 performances and is ranked as one of the 20 longest running shows in Broadway history — did have a major cultural impact in inspiring a new generation of young actors, serving as the proving ground for scores of stage and screen child actresses (Sarah Jessica Parker, Alyssa Milano and Molly Ringwald among them.) The phenomenon is the subject of a new documentary, Life After Tomorrow, which follows up on many of the orphans who appeared in the show during its original Broadway run (1977-1983).

After the show, some holiday shopping with PL, ML and their son, M. Later still, over mushroom pizza, we all sat exhausted and in marvel over the boundless energy of two year olds.

You crowd
You cramp
You’re still
The champ
Amen
For NYC

There are 2 Comments ... Tomorrow, tomorrow

Qsoz
December 28, 2006

Jug and the Entertainer are gonna kill you when they read this!

vipnyc
December 28, 2006

Eh, they won’t because they don’t.¬† Though we’ll¬†confirm soon enough.

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