It's Annie's New York, Then and Now

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It can't be debated that the musical Annie is a saccharine show. After all, many eardrums have been shattered since the show's 1977 debut as a thousand hammy little girls have belted out a thousand  renditions of "Tomorrow" (a notable example is the one featured in You've Got Mail). But with Annie back on Broadway this season, critics and commenters are reminded how remarkably relevant the titular character's optimism is be in a nation and a city reeling from hardship. The New York of today, still reeling from Sandy, bears resemblances to Annie's Depression-era set piece and the 1977 New York when the musical first made its debut. 

If you don't know the story of Annie—and if you don't, where have you been the last 35 years?— it goes like this. Annie lives in an orphanage overrun by spunky belters and run by the evil Miss Hannigan. She is taken into the care of Daddy Warbucks, whose name implies his financial status. She believes the "sun'll come out tomorrow." The show is overtly political. Annie meets some homeless people in a Hooverville. She gives F.D.R. some important inspiration. Back in October Michael Schulman of The New Yorker pondered how the characters might lean politically: "With all the campaign talk about Scranton, Janesville, unemployment, and income inequality, it’s tempting to imagine what the characters would make of the current candidates."

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The relevance of Annie's arrival at this moment in time has not been overlooked. In The New York Times Ben Brantley wrote: "Now, as the city recovers from the crippling onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, and the country wrestles with financial woes not so unlike those of the Great Depression, here comes 'Annie' once again, encouraging us to stick out our chins and grin." David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter asks at the start of his review " Could the timing be any better for a Broadway revival of Annie?" On The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog, Liesl Schillinger explained "How ‘Annie’ Helped One New Yorker Deal With Sandy," noting "When, in the song 'It's the Hard Knock Life'  the orphans plaintively belted, 'Don't it feel like the wind is always howlin'?/ Don't it feel like there’s never any light?' adults in the audience burst out in rueful laughter…" Also Schillinger points out the most obvious connection: Annie's lovable pup is named Sandy. 

Annie opened in 1977, a year famous for the Son of Sam killings, a blackout, and an almost bankrupt city. So while the New York of today may feature elements—recovery from a recession, for example—that look like Annie's Depression-era origins, the struggle's Sandy has brought upon also have given the city back some of the grit and grime of the 70s. Today for instance, the New York Times reported that Mayor Bloomberg has established a gas rationing system, something that hasn't been done since that earlier decade. But as Brantley notes in his review today, Annie helped launch the "I Love New York" campaign, which (as the New York Times noted in 1987) "transformed a faltering statewide tourism industry into one envied by cities, states and countries around the world." The show, even as it depicted a New York in the Depression in a New York riddled with crime, held fuzzy feelings toward the city. So goes the song "N.Y.C": "You crowd/You cramp/You're still/The champ/Amen For NYC." Sure, it's a little treacly, but it's worth keeping in mind.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.