On this day in 1976, one of America’s most beloved musicals, “Annie,” had its world premiere at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.
The new musical, based off the popular Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” had to endure several “hard knocks” of its own before becoming the world-famous production it is today. At first, Goodspeed’s executive director Michael Price rejected the show, but changed his mind after realizing he couldn’t get the show’s catchy tunes (like “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow”) out of his head while vacationing overseas. The night of August 10th was a inauspiciously dark and stormy one, with torrential rains and hurricane-force winds pelting the historic Opera House as theatergoers hurried inside ahead of the show’s premiere. The Hartford Courant’s theater critic gave the musical a scathing review, labeling it “a disaster” and calling its story about a spunky orphan set during the Great Depression a cheap American imitation of “Oliver!”, the musical based on the famous Charles Dickens tale.
During the show’s inaugural Connecticut run, plenty of changes were made: Songs were cut and rearranged, and several leading actors — including the girl who played the title role — were replaced. The revamped show finally built up enough popular momentum to get noticed by Broadway producers. Only eight months after its Goodspeed debut, “Annie” opened on Broadway to rave reviews, and eventually became one of the longest-running and most popular musicals of the late 20th century. The curtain finally fell on the original Broadway production of “Annie” after nearly six years and over 2,300 performances, but the show remains incredibly popular today, with an estimated 700 – 900 amateur and professional performances held around the world annually.
Frank Rizzo, “‘Annie:’ A Look Back at 1976 Goodspeed Premiere,” Hartford Courant
Frank Rizzo, “Goodspeed’s ‘Annie’ Was At First Labeled ‘A Disaster,’” Hartford Courant