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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  • Mike Stevens says:

    I love most revivals although they usually never take the place of the first viewing of the show for me. I do like when there is some nod to the original weather its in staging , music, or set. I have seen the tour of Les Mes and loved it but would not of had an issue if they used the original staging/set

  • Jared W says:

    I have so many opinions on this! In general, I agree with Ken; for me, a Broadway revival demands either a revisionist staging or a major star. I would also add the caveat that if they are just going to plug a star into the traditional take on the show, it needs to be someone who could have gotten cast in said show without being famous.

    I also think there is a time factor that needs to be considered when mounting Broadway revivals. If you’re producing a show that’s played Broadway in the past 20 years, you better have a damn good reason for doing it again if you want to avoid comparisons and a feeling of “been there, done that.” I did not see the 2004 revival of “La Cage aux Folles,” but the 2010 incarnation still left me wondering if we really needed to mount another production of that show so soon. That’s not to say closely timed revivals can’t be justified (the Patti LuPone “Gypsy” was perfection and definitely worth doing, despite the Bernadette Peters version 5 years earlier), but it generally takes more to justify their existence in my mind. I personally would rather see Broadway put its limited theatre space towards new works or shows that haven’t been seen in a generation.

    I personally wish we weren’t getting “Les Miserables” this season, even if it is a revised production. It’s only been 6 years since the last revival, and in between we had the Oscar nominated and widely seen film version. This newest revival just feels like a cash grab that should have stayed on tour, and I am highly skeptical they will find anything new to say about such a familiar show.

    I am torn on “Cabaret.” On the one hand, it’s been 10 years since the last revival closed, and I’m still disappointed I missed it. But considering it is the same production, with the same creative team and the same star, I am not convinced this production will bring anything new to the table. I would rather an entirely new production be mounted, although the prospect of Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams is certainly exciting.

  • Paula says:

    When I love a particular show, and it is brought back to Broadway, I want to see it again. I am
    open minded for seeing a new cast in a revival
    production. I have a ticket for Les Miz,and I
    will purchase a ticket for Cabaret. I saw both
    more than once before, and, I certainly look forward to seeing them again. It doesn’t hurt sales when producers get great talent to head the cast.

  • Three revivals, not to mention Annie 2 and Annie Warbucks. When the producers want to “honor the original”, it really means that in a world with Cinderella, Matilda, and Wicked, they want to make as much cash as possible from the low end tour they are planning.

  • Wilhemina Paulin says:

    I saw the original Pippin and was surprised and pleased with the current exciting version. However, I prefer producers spend more time and energy on new works. And, in the realm of new works, I’ve received great feedback from musicians and actors on my current musical project and my target market has a wide and diversified range of appeal. With a background in group sales and audience development, I have no doubt that my project has wings and an engine on it. Ken, “holla if you hear me!” 🙂

  • Jeremy Gerard says:

    Ken, this is one of your best columns and I applaud your support for bringing a fresh point of view to revivals (though sometimes all you need is Angela Lansbury’s blithe spirit, right?). James Lapine’s `Annie’ production was bold in turning the show just a bit on its sentimental axis. Marty Charnin’s comments had the vinegarish aftertaste of sour grapes….

  • Cam P says:

    Since I don’t live in NYC I can only speak from off off off Broadway. The original production was a success due to it’s original story line music etc. You’re always going to take a gamble deviating from the version that has had proven success. Small test markets might be helpful in getting the feedback needed; especially if you want to go national.

  • David Merrick Jr. says:

    Hey Ken,

    I recently read somewhere tha

  • David Merrick Jr. says:

    Hey Ken,

    I recently read somewhere that KINKY BOOTS is going out on a national tour, but won’t be paying “A” rates to the actors. Is this really because the touring houses wouldn’t pony up for KB because it wasn’t “mainstream” enough?



  • Tom Hartman says:

    I would say a major re-visioning of a show is reason for a revival, or a production that tests a “failed” show’s ability to find an audience. Look how long it took society to catch up to Chicago and Assassins.

    However, do we NEED every single diva in the world to perform Gypsy? I mean c’mon we have Ethel and Roz and Bette and Tyne and Bernadette and Patti. I personally don’t need to hear this score again for about ten years at least. Even if Neal Patrick Harris does it.

  • What’s got the original director of Annie barking louder than Sandy? – The Producer’s Perspective

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