Musical theater’s most famous redhead is back on Broadway. With over 700 productions of Annie in this country a year, chances are you’ve seen it at some point in your life, or are at least familiar with the song “Tomorrow.” The musical about an optimistic orphan during the Great Depression originally opened on Broadway in 1977 and ran for almost 6 years. Now it’s being revived on Broadway for the first time since 1997.
Producer Arielle Tepper Madover saw the original Broadway production of Annie at the age of eight. “My entire career is based on my love for this show,” she says. When her previous show, Red, closed on Broadway in 2010, Madover wanted her next production to be a musical that she had a personal connection with. She also realized how relevant the story still is. “I don’t consider myself a political person, but this show felt very timely. This show is about Republicans and Democrats. This show is obviously about a time that we all hope will never happen again, but that feels very timely right now,” she says.
Once she got the rights, Madover knew she wanted to bring in a director who had never done the show before, who could look at it with fresh eyes. “I wanted a director who was not a choreographer, who could really focus on the direction of the show. I wanted a director who I felt was sophisticated with a lot of experience dealing with musicals and I wanted someone who was going to bring a natural and realistic feel to the production,” she says. “Even though this is musical comedy, I felt that this is a very real story about a little girl who is in all of our hearts and I wanted to bring that story to fruition.”
The director who fit all the criteria was James Lapine, known for his books and direction of Sondheim musicals such as Sunday in the Park with George, Passion, and Into The Woods. “James was my first through tenth choice of director,” Madover says. As fate would have it, Lapine was looking for the rights to Annie. He met with Madover and they were on the same page in terms of what they were looking for with the production.
Lapine brought in set designer David Korins (Chinglish), choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (In The Heights), and costume designer Susan Hilferty (Wicked). Though the choreography, sets, and costumes are entirely new to this production, the score with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin and the book by Thomas Meehan are intact. “I felt pretty strongly that I didn’t want to change anything that was in people’s hearts,” says Madover. “To me, it’s one of the most incredible scores ever written for the musical theater and one of the most wonderful book musicals.”
For the creative team, the task was to bring the music to life in a way that felt both traditional and fresh, says Blankenbuehler. “James Lapine, David Korins, and I have worked hard to create a very fluid quality to the way the show moves from scene to scene,” says Blankenbuehler. “I really love continuing the story telling during the transitions, so I’m especially excited to find new places in the show to push our characters forward. I’m hoping that people who see this show, find it to be the Annie they know and love, but I also hope that it feels new to them.” To the end, because Annie is being introduced to a new audience who may not be familiar with the Great Depression or some of the 1930s references, there are news reels at the start of the show to help put the story in context.
Madover says that the casting for this production also gives it a new feel by focusing on the heartwarming aspects of the show. “Anthony Warlow as Daddy Warbucks is heartbreaking. And every scene he has with Annie [Lilla Crawford] is really touching and emotional in a way that is really unique to this actor. I’ve never seen it performed this way,” Madover says.
Warlow has played Daddy Warbucks in Australia, but he says that this production is quite different. “The Australian production was painted with very broad comic strokes,” Warlow says. “James Lapine has asked for a realism in his direction of the piece here in New York. This brings an emotional gravity to the piece which I feel really pays off in the final scenes.”
Madover’s main goal for audiences: “I really hope that every child and adult who sees this show will walk out of the theater feeling really happy just like I did.”
By Linda Buchwald