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Goodspeed's 'Annie' Was At First Labeled 'A Disaster'

The one show that changed a Connecticut theater's fortunes more than any other was the musical "Annie" that had its world premiere at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam in 1976.

The opening night was a rough one. If "My Fair Lady" opened in the midst of the blizzard, then "Annie" had a hurricane on its debut night. But that was not its only challenge. Courant critic Malcolm Johnson was not impressed with the musical.

In his Aug. 22, 1976, review, the longtime theater critic wrote: "Probably no art form resists translation to the stage any more stubbornly than the comic strip, and making a musical of "Little Orphan Annie" would seem a tricky thing indeed. ... From the start it is clear that this 'Annie' is really 'Oliver!' in drag, lost in Depression America, [but 'Oliver!'] truly towers over this American stepchild — in the writing of its characters, in its songs, in its dances and in its settings. In 'Annie' almost nothing works.

"It's sometimes pleasant music, as in Annie's poignant 'Maybe' but there probably is not one tune that stays with you. ... Kristen Vigard, the 13-year-old who opened as Annie, is a pretty and appealing redhead, but neither the writing nor the direction provided her the opportunity to convey the daring and resourceful character of the comics. ... Maggie Task's Miss Hannigan ... is neither menacing nor funny. ... [The show] is a disaster."

After the review, much more work was done on the show, including a new Annie later in its Goodspeed run with Andrea McArdle. Mike Nichols saw something on the last day of the East Haddam run and helped reshape the show, adding a new Miss Hannigan, new choreographer and designers. The show went on to become one of the biggest hits in Broadway history. It also put millions into Goodspeed's endowment and cemented the theater's growing reputation as a major venue of new as well as older works of the American musical theater.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
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