In a fictional New York City in 1933, a cheerful, red-headed orphan remains wistfully optimistic that her parents, who left her at an orphanage in 1922, will return to claim her. This spunky young heroine, who is living during the Great Depression, refuses to look on the downside and instead, insists that, to borrow the words from another fictional work “ tomorrow is another day.” ( Thank you, Margaret Mitchell). Does this tale sound familiar? It should; almost everyone is well versed in how to “hang on till tomorrow, come what may!” Little Orphan Annie, who made her first literary debut in a poem by James Whitcomb Riley in 1885, and then became a long standing newsprint cartoon character and radio show, was developed into a now iconic Broadway musical, which debuted on the Great White Way in 1977. And later this week on November 18th and 19th of 2016, Saint Dominic Academy will present Annie for students, parents and alumnae.
Our young orphan has seen some changes from her origins in 1885. In the poem, Annie is an orphan who has come to the home of a wealthy family; she cooks and cleans and also tells the younger children stories about how “the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.” Not as winsome as our ideal red-headed moppet, this Annie carried a message of warning to small children; be good for your parents or else! In newsprint and on the radio, Annie was a spirited child, battling robbers and pirates, together with her dog Sandy and several other characters familiar to us. When she arrived on Broadway in 1977, she was a tap dancing, red-headed darling; a Shirley Temple of sorts for a new generation. In 1982, she hit the big screen in the movie version and there have been two other movie productions of the story, as well as numerous revivals.
To say that our little orphan, Annie, is iconic is putting it mildly. For generations, she has been encouraging us to look on the bright side, to hope for the best, to never stop believing. She has existed through the ages; her character survived the Depression and went on to experience Roosevelt’s New Deal. Likewise, the story has brought hope and inspiration since its music and lyrics were composed in 1977. Is there any one of us who can listen to the lyrics to “Maybe”, without welling up? Anyone out there who cannot belt out “Tomorrow”, with gusto?
And for as long as there has been the character of Annie, Saint Dominic Academy has been around. SDA was here when Whitcomb penned his poem; perhaps it was taught then, as I plan to teach it now! While young ladies were attending SDA in the 1920’s perhaps they read the debut comic strip and those SDA girls from the 1930’s may have put homework aside to listen to the radio program. The comic continued for generations and in 1977, I would imagine that there were some lucky SDA students headed to NYC to see the musical in its debut performance. I know I myself was in a movie theatre in 1982, barely five years old, seeing the film on the big screen. I am sure many of you remember going to see it as well. I loved it then, and I love it now, as I hear the music being played in ELAN, as I watch the orphans bang their pots and brooms during their dance routines, as I listen to our very own Annie ( played by Amity Arejo, class of 2018) sing the timeless songs from this show.
Annie is the perfect musical for SDA; for several reasons. It is, at its heart, the tale of an empowered young woman, one who does not let the world stand in the way of her dreams. Its focus is a timeless character, one who has existed for 131 years, only 7 years fewer than Saint Dominic Academy itself. You might say that SDA and Annie have grown together, changed together, and both are a snapshot of the changing times in our country and world. Both have endured, and will endure for ages to come. I am so very happy that the first musical under my tenure of Head of School is Annie and I hope many of you will join us at our show this weekend!