It’s a bonus weekend post about another great musical…
It’s the musical with a charming girl who never loses hope for tomorrow, her adopted dog, a celebration of N.Y.C., an adoption at Christmas, and a cameo of a historic figure. What’s there not to love about the musical “Annie”? (Well, maybe Miss Hannigan – but there again she’s the character we love to hate.)
Spoilers ahead as we talk about this beloved musical and it’s historical roots…
A Brief Synopsis
It’s 1933 and eleven-year-old Annie lives in a crowded orphanage under the strict eyes of Miss Hannigan who works the girls, keeps their money, and punishes them. Annie keeps believing that her parents who left her at the orphanage years ago will come back for her. She is kind to the other girls and sometimes ringleads in mischief against Miss H.
Finally, Annie has had enough. She runs away from the orphanage, finds a stray dog, and saves the pup from the dog catchers by saying it’s her dog named “Sandy.” Annie and Sandy wander the streets of New York City, stumbling into a Hooverville community and seeing the effects of the Great Depression. A policeman eventually finds Annie and hauls her and Sandy back to the orphanage.
About the time Annie arrives, Grace Farrel also arrives and meets with Miss Hannigan. Grace – a secretary assistant for Oliver Warbucks, one of the richest men in America – wants to bring an orphaned child to her employer’s mansion for the Christmas season. She asks to take Annie for the special excursion.
At the Warbucks mansion, the staff welcomes Annie and promises her a week of delights. She meets Mr. Warbucks and quickly befriends him; he to look after Annie, but she reveals that what she wants most is to find her real parents. Grace, the staff, and Oliver Warbucks promise to help and offer a reward for information or the appearance of Annie’s parents, making the announcement on the radio. Miss Hannigan, her brother, and a friend hear about the news and hatch a plot to take Annie and get the money by pretending to be her parents.
Meanwhile, Mr. Warbucks has to go to Washington D.C. to meet with President Roosevelt and he takes Annie with him. She gets to meet the president and inspires him by singing her song about tomorrow.
Mr. Warbucks tells Annie that he wants to adopt her since her parents have not appeared and they make plans for a grand Christmas party. Then the Hannigan gang shows up, pretending to be/know her parents. Happily, a surprise visit from the President with information from the FBI reveals that Annie’s parents died years before and the Hannigans get arrested. As everyone celebrates the holiday and Annie’s adoption, President Roosevelt shares his plan for the New Deal.
On Stage & In Film
The musical is actually based on a story-form of the comic strip Little Orphan Annie. The concept started as a book by Thomas Meehan, then changed to a musical production with lyrics by Martin Charnin and music by Charles Strouse. Meehan believed the story of Annie was an American version of a Charles Dicken’s type of story with a look at common, lower class folks, and difficult times in history.
The original Broadway musical opened in 1977 and ran for 2,377 shows in about six years. The show has toured nationally several times, enjoyed a Broadway revival, and international tours. Sequels have been written and staged, but none have been as successful as the original.
Annie has been produced several times for film and television and each year hundreds of community theaters stage performances of this beloved musical. The numerous children’s roles makes it ideal for youth theater.
Some of the hit songs include:
- It’s A Hard Knock Life
- You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile
The Great Depression
On October 29, 1929, the Stock Market Crashed. It triggered a world-wide economic depression. President Herbert Hoover planned that the economy would correct and encouraged private organizations to help people in need. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt started many government programs in attempts to aid citizens and boost the economy; ultimately, World War II and the industrial boom caused by military necessity pulled America out of the economic depression.
Many men lost their jobs during the depression and struggled to find new work. Savings accounts were wiped out. People scrimped, saved, and looked for work. Many lived on the streets or in “Hoovervilles” when they lost their homes; others traveled the country looking for jobs.
“Want To Thank You Herbert Hoover”
One of the songs in the musical is “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover” and is sung by folks living in a Hooverville. During the Great Depression, shanty towns sprang up, offering shelter for people who had lost their fortunes, homes/apartments, or jobs. They were named after President Hoover who was sometimes blamed for not doing enough to alleviate the effects of the economic depression.
New York City had two major and historic “Hoovervilles.” One was in Central Park and sheltered many homeless families from the city. The other was in Riverside Park at 72nd Street. Shelters were constructed from cardboard, boards, crates – basically anything that was available.
Inspired By History
It’s not every musical that offers a U.S. President in a key part of the plot! Annie scores high on the historical rating charts for its setting in the Great Depression, introduction of Roosevelt’s New Deal, Hoovervilles, and the un-shakeable American belief in “Tomorrow.” While it’s still not a good idea to take history from musicals, Annie offers a strong glimpse and impression of a past era and even has historic roots in a comic strip from the mid-20th Century.