On Centre Stage with Douglas Kennedy.
Little Orphan Annie’s Story
In one shape or another it would appear that Brisbane can’t get enough Annie, although Trevor Ashley’s new parody version, Little Orphan Trashley, which plays the Powerhouse this week, is a million miles from the original Annie the Musical, which popped up again in April 2012.
When Anthony Warlow and Nancye Hayes starred in that version OSC complied this report on the story behind the red headed heroine who first came to light in 1885.
That’s when US poet James Whitcomb Riley took a young girl, whose father was killed in the American Civil War, as the inspiration for a poem known as the Elf Child and later Little Orphan Annie.
The girl was Little Orphan Allie, who morphed into Annie, thanks to one of those seemingly many typos which have changed the course of popular culture.
Riley’s celebration of a wealth of positive attributes for children, including an optimistic outlook, quickly became a children’s favourite and in turn led to the much loved Raggedy Ann Doll.
It even spawned a 1918 silent movie and was an ingredient in the recipe for Harold Gray’s popular Little Orphan Annie newspaper strip, which debuted August 5, 1924.
Gray, who had also been inspired by a ‘ragamuffin’ he bumped into on the streets of Chicago, ‘who impressed him with her commonsense, knowhow and ability to take care of herself, originally found selling the concept very much the hard knock life.
But just like show biz stalwarts in the popular bio-pics of the 1930s and ‘40s, Gray never looked back once he was given a break in the New York Daily News. Little Orphan Annie was eventually syndicated across the country.
One of the strip’s most interesting characters is Olivier ‘Daddy’ Warbucks who appears to have none of the attributes associated with a contemporary benefactor.
He’s a bald capitalist-cum-entrepreneur – doesn’t that remind you of someone? Oh, yes Superman‘s nemesis Lex Luther – who in the original strip made his fortune manufacturing arms in World War One.
Gray, who didn’t shy away from political themes such as organised labour, FDR’s New Deal and communism, had a healthy disregard for anyone – in government or the unions – who interfered with private wealth.
And some claim Annie is out of touch with contemporary western society?
The strip continued until 2010, but in the meantime Messes Meehan, Strouse and Charnin turned it into a hit musical in 1977, although their journey to Broadway success was hardly a yellow brick road.
While Little Orphan Annie might not remain a red-headed munchkin, trapped in a 1933 time warp, I suspect the core sentiment of the piece will live on albeit revamped.
There was, for example, a report in Variety at the beginning of last year that US movie star Will Smith wanted to re-invent the show as a vehicle for his daughter Willow Smith.
Little Annie never aged in Gray’s strip and I doubt she ever will as heroes – even orphans – never do. Little Orphan Annie will be forever waiting in the wings.
Whether it be in the traditional as seen in the Annie the Musical at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre last year, some new movie down the track or as portrayed by drag and cabaret star Trevor Ashley this week.
For a report on Ashley’s catch the next story.