What’s got the original director of Annie barking louder than Sandy?

There was a little brouhaha brewing last week about the recent revival of Annie that closed in January after a more than respectable 15 month run at the palace-sized Palace Theatre.

What was all the barking about?  Here’s the rundown:

The producers of the Broadway production decided not to produce a tour of that production.  Why?

National Tours are produced in the opposite way of Broadway shows.  On Broadway, a Producer takes the enormous risk of putting on a show by renting the theater and running that show until people stop coming.  And hopefully the show recoups along the way.  When producing a National Tour, a Producer sells the show to the touring houses around the country (The Wang Theatre, Dallas Summer Musicals, etc.) for a “guaranteed” amount of money (approx $150-$350k) before the show even goes into rehearsal . . . so a Producer can build a budget for the production that fits in the economic box that the market is willing to bear.  Make sense?  It’s knowing what price you’re going to get before you build your show.  It’s reverse engineering.  And it’s why National Tours are so much less risky than Broadway shows . . . because when done right, you know the minimum amount of compensation you are going to receive over the life of the tour before loading up a single truck.

So, in Annie‘s case, I assume that the market obviously wasn’t willing to pay the big bucks required to mount a national tour of the recent production . . . and the Producers respectfully said, “Well, if we can’t do it the way we want it done . . . to respect the vision of what we created . . . then we don’t want to do it.”

In walks Troika Entertainment, who scoops up the rights to produce a tour of the show (and who specializes in lower cost touring productions) and has the ability to create a production for a price that the current touring marketing is willing to pay, and out it will go this summer.

It won’t be the recent Broadway production that hits the road, but rather the original approach.  In fact, it will be directed by its original Director and Lyricist, Martin Charnin.

In a recent NY Times article about the controversy, Mr. Charnin was quoted as saying, he believed . . .

The most successful approach to ‘Annie’ for the last 37 years was missing from the recent production.  I want to return to the indefinable kind of magic and charm that has long been a part of the show’s performances and staging.

In other words, he’s going back to the way it was before.  Well, ok . . . that’s certainly his right, and yep, the original production of Annie was successful.  Just like the original Oklahoma was successful.  And the original Sweeney Todd.  But replicating the original wasn’t what the Broadway Producers were trying to do, nor is it what producing revivals is all about (and it’s why recent revivals of Oklahoma and Sweeney looked a lot different than the originals).

In one of the first blogs I ever wrote, I discussed the two primary reasons for reviving a show on Broadway being:

1.  A revisionist thinking, or a new unique take on the show.
2.  A major star.

You better have one or the other, and in best cases, both.

So, sure, maybe the touring market is happy with a standard run-of-the-mill Annie, but Broadway requires something a bit more special than that (the last revival of Annie in the 90’s was a replica and that didn’t do that well either).  In fact, that’s when Broadway takes its biggest hard knocks, when it does only what it’s done before and doesn’t try something new.

I’ve got to the give the Broadway Producers of Annie props for hiring the brilliant James Lapine and going after a classic in a unique way.  I know I would have done the same thing, in the same way that I would not have produced just a standard revival of Macbeth last year . . . but a one man Macbeth starring Alan Cumming.  Yes, please, I would.

We’ve got a couple of upcoming revivals of revivals that will test some of this theory . . . a brand new take on Les Miz, which is coming off the success of the movie, but the lack of success of the more recent regular revival when they just put up what had been done before . . . and Cabaret, one of the greatest revivals Broadway has ever, ever seen, with the same production, but with one of the most sensational performances Broadway has ever, ever seen . . . with Alan as the Emcee.

What do you think about revivals on Broadway?  What makes you want to see them?  And what do you think Broadway Producers should do to decrease risk and attract new audiences?  And are you excited for Cabaret and Les Miz this season?

Tell me.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.