I’m ecstatic about this week’s election results. In a million years I never expected the Democrats to regain control of the House and the Senate. Now I just pray that they don’t get too full of themselves and screw things up too badly over the next few years. As always in the days after an election, especially one in which the dominant party was routed, we are hearing a ton of rhetoric about bipartisanship. After years of ever-increasing enmity, suddenly everyone wants to be best friends. Bush has a coffee klatch with Nancy Pelosi and makes a bad joke about Republican interior decorators. Is that what bipartisanship means these days—that Democrats as well as Republicans now have to smile wanly through Bush’s inane and vaguely inappropriate good ol’ boy humor? I wish I could believe that this handshaking across the aisle was going to last beyond Thanksgiving but I’m not very optimistic, we’ve seen this short-lived dance too many times. I know that Republicans are lying in wait eager to pounce on the first misstep just as much as the Democrats have delighted in condemning the actions of the Republican-controlled Congress all these years. Sigh.
Is true bipartisanship possible anymore? Can you cite an example in which Democrats and Republicans worked together effectively? I can think of one but I have to go back 75 years and move from the front page to the funny pages. (Is there a difference?)
Do you remember when Republican billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks worked closely with New Deal President Franklin D. Roosevelt to find the birth parents of his ward, Little Orphan Annie? In the musical version of this story, plenty of jokes are made about industrialist Warbucks’ close friendship with liberal FDR. In truth, Annie’s creator Harold Gray was an ultra-conservative who despised Roosevelt. If you look at the original comic strips from the 1930s you will find many veiled and not-so-veiled swipes at Roosevelt and his policies. Gray got a lot of criticism for it at the time but his political beliefs were never under wraps in his comics. At one point he even killed off Daddy Warbucks as a protest to what he considered the outrages of the New Deal and only brought him back to life following Roosevelt’s death in 1945.
I’m contemplating the Warbucks-Roosevelt partnership with the same immediacy as Bush-Pelosi because our house these days has become All-Annie, All-The-Time. Leah is deep in rehearsals to play the lead role in the musical “Annie” this December. She’s been in a bunch of shows with this theatre company over the years but most of the parts she’s had up until now have been men. There’s never an abundance of boys in children’s theatre and Leah frankly has more masculine energy than most of the actual boys in the company. She started her musical theatre career as Officer Krupke in “West Side Story” and then played the King in “Cinderella.” She was a tough Danny Zuko in “Grease,” a hip-swiveling Conrad in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” and a terrifying Bill Sykes in “Oliver.”
But Annie was always the dream part. From the moment she was born with a head full of curly bright red hair, my daughter has been compared to Little Orphan Annie. I remember once when she was 4 we were walking by a group of tourists sitting at a table in Farmers Market who called out, “Hey, Annie!” at which point Leah reeled around, put her hands on her hips, and screamed at the top of her lungs, “I’M NOT ANNIE!” But she wanted to be. By six she knew the entire score to the musical and could belt out “Tomorrow” like there’s no tomorrow. I know that little girls warbling that particular song has become a shorthand cliché for the horrors of child performers but I never cringe when I hear that familiar opening—I love it!
I saw the original “Annie” at the Alvin Theatre in New York (now the Neil Simon) in early 1978. It was still one of the toughest tickets on Broadway but back then you could get Standing Room Only seats for an unbelievable five bucks a pop and you got to lean on comfortable padded cushions right behind the last row. It wasn’t bad at all and I was transfixed by the production which still included the late Dorothy Loudon as the deliciously evil little girl-hating Miss Hannigan. Andrea McArdle had just left the cast to open the show on London’s West End so the Annie I saw was ten-year-old Shelley Bruce who was one of the original orphans. Bruce was quite good although she never became as famous as the next Annie replacement, Sarah Jessica Parker. I heard that Shelley Bruce survived a bout with cancer recently and now has two kids in New Jersey.
Leah loved the movie versions of the musical including the ill-fated John Huston film that came out in 1982. This movie should have been a hell of lot better with people like Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan, Albert Finney as Oliver Warbucks, and Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters as Rooster and Lily. So what went wrong? Is it terribly unfair to blame a bad movie on a defenseless little girl? Aileen Quinn as Annie was so sugary sweet that you needed a blood transfusion after watching each number. This was Huston’s only musical and he clearly did not have a feel for it. Back to the African Queen for you, Maestro.
But Leah and I both loved the 1999 TV version directed by Rob Marshall and starring Kathy Bates as Miss Hannigan and Broadway stars Victor Garber, Alan Cumming, Audra McDonald, and Kristen Chenoweth. Alicia Morton played Annie with exactly the right amount of spunk, sarcasm, and sincerity. Even the grown-up Andrea McArdle got to exercise her still amazing pipes in a cameo role.
When Leah auditioned for the musical I tried my hardest not to become Mama Rose. “Any part you get will be great, Leah,” I assured her, secretly sending stage parent vibes to the director of the show that she’d have to be out of her freaking mind not to cast Leah as Annie. Come on, think of the money they’d save on that damn wig! When Leah called me from the theatre the following week to tell me she got the part, I burst into tears. What is wrong with me? Since then we’ve been mastering our duet of Daddy Warbucks and Annie’s big song, "I Don't Need Anything But You." Hey, I have to be ready in case the 8th grade girl playing Warbucks mysteriously falls ill on opening night, don’t I?
I’m poor as a mouse
I’m richer than Midas
But nothing on earth
Could ever divide us
And if tomorrow I’m an apple seller, too
I don’t need anything but you!
Should that be the new theme song in Congress? Democrats and Republicans can sing it to each other on the Capitol Steps. It sure beats that “hard-knock life” song we've been singing for the past six years.
Leah’s show opens on December 14th and I’m probably a little too excited about it. I’ve now heard her belt “Tomorrow” a thousand times and it gets me every time. Talk about a good political theme for this year:
When I’m stuck with a day
That’s gray and lonely
I just stick out my chin
And grin and say, oh!
The sun’ll come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on til tomorrow
Come what may!
To be honest I think the bipartisanship in “Annie” is just as forced as it is in Washington. Harold Gray would be catapulting in his grave if he could hear the lyrics to the closing song in “Annie” in which Oliver Warbucks, Gray’s personification of the conservative Republican values he held near and dear, undergoes a total political transformation and joins FDR’s New Deal with all the gusto necessary for a show-stopping finale:
I know the Depression’s depressing
The carols are stilled
The stored aren’t filled
And the windows are minus the dressing
The children don’t grin
The Santas are thin
GRACE AND WARBUCKS:
And I've heard a terrible rumor
No goodwill, no cheer
But we'll get a New Deal for Christmas
ANNIE AND ORPHANS:
The snowflakes are frighting of falling
And oh, what a fix
No peppermint sticks!
And all through the land folks are bawling
And filled with despair
'Cause cupboards are bare
But Santa’s got brand new assistants
There's nothing to fear
They're bringing a New Deal for Christmas
Those happy days that we were promised
Are finally here!
We’re getting a New Deal for Christmas
Oy. Even I’m not that optimistic about the Democrats!