Thank heaven for little girls.
Annie is storming back onto Broadway, and if history is any guide, the Depression-era rags-to-riches tale of a girl and her dog will make as much money, and as quickly, as did its lucky heroine: the original ran for a staggering 2,377 performances, and touring companies and regional theaters have made the show ubiquitous throughout the ensuing years.
But what of the political fallout? Will Team Romney’s October Surprise be a carrot-topped cutie pie?
After all, beneath its irresistible melodies and exuberant choreography, Annie is at root the story of America’s ongoing attempt to grapple with the wealth gap—or to brush it aside. It’s last week’s presidential debate set to music, in which the economic vision of Mitt & Co. (a survival-of-the-fittest society in which only the pluckiest 47-percenters can improve their station) easily edges out Obama’s underfunded entitlement economy.
Even as it lionizes FDR, whose New Deal provides the show’s rousing finale, it offers up the most tender tycoon since Bill Gates, a HNWI with a heart of gold. Daddy Warbucks has his tax shelters—bet on it—but for the right orphan, he cheerfully opens his home and his wallet. And somehow the message about building a social safety net for Annie’s fellow orphans is always forgotten in the fairy tale of one little girl and her diamond-decked sugar daddy.
Annie is the perfect show for our dire economic moment, just as it was when it debuted: It alit on Broadway on April 21, 1977, mere months before the Bronx burned amid the blackout and looting that summer. The Clash had just released their first album, and Saturday Night Fever, a bleak vision of the outer-borough underclass, was among the year’s biggest hits.
When little orphan Annie belted out her big show-stopper, insisting that “the sun’ll come out tomorrow,” audiences could, at least momentarily, ignore the national economic and cultural “malaise” of the Carter administration and imagine a happy ending, however long in coming (there’s the rub: it’s always a day away). Annie’s chance encounter with a wealthy loner who eventually adopts her—having fallen in love with the ragamuffin after a single magical night in the city—represents the great American dream of transcending one’s circumstances not by dint of hard work (because that would be hard) but due to an innate spark of goodness that admits one into the charmed circle of wealth and power.