The story of an orphaned girl’s unshakable faith in the parents who left her as a ward of the state as a very young child would not on first glance seem to be the stuff of which world-renowned and unforgettable broadway musicals are made. Yet, today in 1976, an unlikely play with that plot line launched its bumpy journey into theatrical history when it had its world premiere at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.
The now-classic production “Annie,” based on the popular Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” had to endure several “hard knocks” on the road to legendary status . At first, Goodspeed’s executive director Michael Price rejected the show, but changed his mind after realizing, while vacationing abroad, that he couldn’t get the show’s catchy tunes (like “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow”) out of his head. The opening night of August 10th was also an inauspiciously dark and stormy one. Torrential rains and hurricane-force winds pelted the historic Opera House as anxious theatergoers crowded inside ahead of the show’s premiere.
The sun did not come out with the initial review, either. The Hartford Courant’s theater critic gave the musical a scathing write-up, 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 actor who played the title role — were replaced.
The revamped show built up enough momentum to catch the attention of Broadway producers, and only eight months after its Goodspeed debut, “Annie” opened on Broadway to rave reviews. It 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 after nearly six years and over 2,300 performances. “Annie” remains incredibly popular today, with an estimated 700 – 900 amateur and professional performances held around the world annually. This, despite the fact that the sun didn’t come out tomorrow, today in Connecticut history.
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