'Annie''s (And Goodspeed's) Martin Charnin, Dead at 84

Animal trainer Bill Berloni,, Andrea McArdlke and Martin Charnin at a Goodspeed celebration of “Annie” . Photo by Frank Rizzo.

Animal trainer Bill Berloni,, Andrea McArdlke and Martin Charnin at a Goodspeed celebration of “Annie” . Photo by Frank Rizzo.

Sad news: Lyricist and director and one of the founding fathers of “Annie” died. He suffered a heart attack July 3 and his daughter posted the news today. He was 84.

This is one of the interviews I did with him for The Hartford Courant. It ran in 2011.


As the original creators of the blockbuster musical "Annie" prepare to gather at Goodspeed Musical's annual fundraising gala Saturday (where the show and its creative team will be honored), "Annie"'s driving force looks back at its world premiere at the Goodsapeed Opera House in East Haddam in 1976 -- and when it almost died there as well.

I talked this week with Martin Charnin, the show's lyricist and director -- and who originally conceived and nurtured the show. It all began when he first had the idea in 1969 to take the classic comic strip and turn it into a musical. In 1970, Charnin optioned the rights from the Chicago Tribune, the strip's publishers (whose parent company now owns The Hartford Courant).

"It cost me a mess of money and I kept renewing the rights. I just couldn't let it go. It cost me everything I had. When we finally opened on Broadway, I just had enough money to buy the newspapers to read the reviews."

Charnin addresses some myths:

New York producers nixed the show when he first tried to get the show produced.

True, says Charnin who went around Manhattan auditioning the show for potential producers. It was a no-go. Then Charnin remembered a theater in Connecticut called the Goodspeed Opera House which did musicals.

Goodspeed embraced the show with open arms:

Actually, longtime executive director Michael Price rejected the show at first. But the songs stayed with him and when he found himself humming the tunes when he was vacationing in London, his wife Joanna reminded him that they were from "Annie." Price reversed his decision and said yes to produce the show in East Haddam. "There was no second theater in Chester at the time to develop the show and he put it on the main stage," says Charnin.

Bernadette Peters was considered for the role of "Annie."

Never happened, says Charnin. The role was always envisioned as being played by a young but not too young girl.

The opening night was a special event.

Yes, for not the reasons the creators had hoped. The opening happened just as a huge storm -- some now say hurricane -- hit East Haddam.

And it ran way long.

"It did run long but that was due to the hurricane which knicked the lights out. We were using flash lights in the second act

The reviews were great.

Not from the Hartford Courant, whose critic Malcolm Johnson pointed out flaws that needed to be improved if the show had any hope to succeed.

A lot of changes were made.


This piece ran in 1996 when Charnin returned to direct a revival tour of “Annie” at the same time directing a revival of the show at Goodspeed.


A lot has happened since "Annie" had its debut 20 years ago at the Goodspeed Opera House.

The show, which started in the wake of a hurricane and a disastrous run- through, became one of the most successful musicals ever, reaping many awards, the affection of generations of children and financial rewards for all concerned.

Now the musical is back.


"Annie," staged by the show's original director, Martin Charnin, is playing at the East Haddam theater through Dec. 22. (The Courant's review of the show will run Saturday).

Next month, Charnin will begin rehearsals all over again for a new national touring company starring Nell Carter. That production will play the Oakdale Musical Theatre in Wallingford in February.

Charnin says he agreed to stage the revival at Goodspeed last year before he was offered a chance to mount a commercial, pre-Broadway tour. He was also drawn to the possibility of attracting an even wider audience with Carter as Miss Hannigan, Annie's comic nemesis.

"[Carter] might theoretically open the show up to an audience that has not necessarily been exposed to `Annie,' " he says. "There is an ethnic audience that could become more familiar to the material through her."

Charnin says he's up to the double "Annie" whammy and points out that although he spent years working on a sequel, --he hasn't directed the original since a road company tour in the early '80s.

"If I let someone else do it at Goodspeed, and it was good," says Charnin, "that would have killed me. And if it was bad, that would have killed me. The only person who could have done it was me."

He also points out that the Broadway "Annie" has never been done at Goodspeed, just the work-in- progress.

Charnin, who turns 62 in November, says all productions benefit from previous ones, and these will no different. Though he is not reconceiving either production, both will be filled with little tweaks and polishes.

With these shows, Charnin is re- marking his "Annie" turf after its movie version. Though that film was a critical disappointment when it came out in 1982, it turned a profit because of video, Charnin says. More important, it has become the defining "Annie" for several new generations of kids, and he wants to reclaim his little girl.