What’s up, nerds?! Or should I say theatre nerds? Encore is here to let our freak flags wave, our vibratos be belted, and our emotions be sung out loud. One of the launch day series for Disney+ is Encore, which may be familiar to some keen ABC viewers. Back in November of 2017, ABC aired a one-off special as part of their holiday programming. The special followed Kristen Bell hosting/executive producing a former high school class as they reunite with their fellow theater kids to resurrect their past performances. In the special, Kristen brought together the Class of 1997 from South Hills High in West Covina, CA to recreate their production of Into the Woods.
The show was quite magical, for lack of a better Disney buzz word. These former students almost immediately fell into their old ways, trepidations, and personalities. Isn’t it funny how as far removed as you think you are, everyone is sort of stuck in their high school ways? It was so interesting to see how these adults turned back into teens almost immediately, but slowly became their true selves through the reintroduction of musical theater. That is the power of theater. It has the ability to level the playing field and become an ever moving and grooving playground for artistry, taking chances, and pure joy.
Luckily, the power and delight of the series was seen and heard, as it was plucked from the broadcast doldrums and brought to the light of Disney+. We’ll be getting a full series of hour-long episodes, chronicling various high school theater classes from the past and from across the country.
It got us thinking, however. While every musical restaged might not be a Disney production, do they have any connections to this wonderful world? Of course, some will be incredibly obvious, but what about those pre-Disney on Broadway classics? Can we pull a Six Degrees of Separation situation? I’m here to go full Claire-Danes-in-Homeland and tie the red string from pushpin to pushpin and connect the dots. Think of it as an article-based musical theater course. Sharpen those pencils, but not those notes (‘cause that quarter note is a B, not a C. Come on, we talked about this! An elongate those vowels!). Let’s get started!
Episode 1: Annie
Book: Thomas Meehan (For non-theater people, that’s the script! Us theater folk like to use different words. For example it is a “cast album” not a “soundtrack.”)
Music & Lyrics: Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, respectively
Based on: The Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie
Broadway Premiere: April 21, 1977 at the Alvin Theatre (now known as the Neil Simon Theatre)
Tony Awards: 10 Nominations, 7 Wins, including BEST MUSICAL
The film adaptation was released in 1982 to mediocre reviews and a disappointing box office ($57 million gross on a $50 million budget). However, Annie was resurrected and remade in 1999 in a co-production between Columbia and, you guessed it, Disney. The television movie adaptation was made exclusively for ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney. The movie was directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall (who later directed Miramax’s Chicago and Disney’s Into the Woods, among other things), who ended up winning an Emmy for his work choreographing the film.
The film starred Alicia Morton, Kathy Bates, Alan Cumming, Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, and Victor Garber. Yup. That was the cast. Can you imagine? My ability to fathom the talent amongst that cast is incredibly hard for me and the movie is 20 years old.
Some big differences from this version compared to the original was the exclusion of “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover” and an inclusion of an “NYC (Reprise)”. Many argue that this film adaptation’s script is the best representation of the original work, more so than the 1982 and 2014 (yikes) versions. Without a doubt, this incarnation of the musical has the G-R-E-A-T-E-S-T recording. I love the original Broadway cast album, don’t get me wrong, but Alicia and Audra are too good to pass up.
The true highlight of the entire film was thanks to the dynamic and prolific producing duo of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. They are known for having a deep love for musical theater and bringing it to the masses in inventive and revolutionary ways. They are to thank, for example, for the resurgence of the live television musical. The famous role of “Star-to-Be,” aka the main soloist in “NYC” was chosen for this film by the duo as Andrea McArdle, better known as Broadway’s original Annie. Brava to that casting decision and
Interestingly, for Annie, Disney’s adaptation has become canon. This is rare, as the show was not originally produced by Disney, but their 1999 film has become the essential version of this classic show for millions. We tip our hat to Zadan & Meron (Sadly, Craig Zadan passed away last year, but his legacy of bringing musical theater to the people will never be forgotten), Alicia & Audra, and everyone involved with the fantastic 1999 Annie.
*Be sure to check out the hyperlinks throughout the article and future pieces in this series for clips from the show, random musical theater references, and canonical items from my life that deserve to be shared amongst the masses*