After the classic musical comedy “Annie” closed last month amid mixed reviews and a poor box office, and without recouping its $12 million investment, it was no surprise producers decided to pass on the option for mounting a national tour, reneging on their previous announcement for a 2014-15 launch. But what has been a surprise is that the creators of “Annie” have decided to mount a touring version of the show themselves. And they’re publicly distancing themselves from anything to do with the 2012 revival.
Martin Charnin, the original director and lyricist of “Annie,” told Playbill.com Monday that he has regrouped with composer Charles Strouse and book writer Thomas Meehan to re-approach the material for a new Broadway tour. Charnin will direct the touring production himself, and promises to use his the original 1977 Broadway production as a model.
What you won’t find in this new “Annie” is the serious tone of the 2012 revival. That production, directed by Tony winner James Lapine, focused more on the hard-knock-lives of its characters in their Depression-era setting. Charnin said his new “Annie” will “approach the performances in a very truthful way, restoring the humour, strength, heart, and joy... that were in short supply in the recent revival."
Asked for an example, Charmin told The New York Times on Tuesday that he had urged Lapine to include a scene in which Sandy the dog appears out of an overdosed Christmas present because “audiences eagerly anticipate” that “piece of magic.” (Instead, Lapine had Sandy run into Annie’s arms from offstage).
Oddly, Strouse and Meehan have contradicted Charnin’s reasoning for the changes. In a statement, they said “Contrary to Martin, we admired James Lapine’s vision for the Broadway revival. Did we miss some moments from the past? Of course, but the production held many new and inspired surprises.”
For his part, Lapine told The New York Times that Charnin, Strouse and Meehan were “included in every aspect of [his] production,” and even approved his vision before licensing the rights.
While audiences have come to expect that touring productions will replicate the experience of the same show currently playing (or that most recently played) on Broadway, it’s not unprecedented for a show to tour creatively retooled productions, with altered direction, design, books and scores.
A U.S. tour of “Phantom of the Opera,” for example, launched in November 2013 with a “reimagined staging,” complete with new blocking, choreography and costumes/set/lighting/sound design. The new Broadway revival of “Les Misérables” that opens next month at the Imperial Theatre comes straight from the road, where a retooled staging was tweaked and tested on audiences, city by city.
Whether this new “Annie” returns to Broadway remains to be seen. Charnin is currently casting his 25-member company. No itinerary for the tour has been announced yet, but the show will go out on a non-Equity tour presented by Troika Entertainment - a decision that will prove a considerable cost savings for the production. Let’s hope Strouse and Meehan at least agree with Charnin on that.