Pop-culture 'Annie,' from comics to Broadway to Jay-Z

A sneak video peek at Phamaly Theatre Company’s ‘Annie,’ opening July 15 at the Denver Center.

Today, tomorrow and forever, the red-headed orphan is part of our pop-culture fabric.

By Avery Anderson
For the DCPA NewsCenter

Denver’s Phamaly Theatre Company has provided performance opportunities for actors with disabilities for 28 years. The company stages a big, annual Broadway musical every summer at the Denver Center, and the upcoming Annie will be its first to be presented in the larger Stage Theatre.

Over the years, America’s favorite red-headed orphan has appeared several different forms from the big screen to the newspaper. And the Annie you see on stage this month at the Denver Center “will be unlike any production of Annie you’ve ever seen,” promises co-director Regan Linton.

Here are 10 different versions of Annie we have met throughout nearly a century of American pop-culture history:

NUMBER 1In the newspaper: Annie was introduced to the world in 1924 as a comic strip called Little Orphan Annie in the New York Daily News. In this version created by Harold Gray, Annie often battled her archenemy: The mean-spirited and cold-hearted Mrs. Warbucks, if you can believe it. The comic strip attracted adult readers with political commentary that targeted organized labor, the New Deal and communism. The comics ran in several different papers and as different versions until 2010.

annie comic book

NUMBER 2On the radio:
Running from 1931-42 on NBC’s Blue Network, Little Orphan Annie closely followed the comic-book storylines. America’s favorite redhead drew  6 million listeners a week. The radio show even made a cameo in the movie A Christmas Story, prompting the famous Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine scene.


NUMBER 3Early movies: Long before Annie could be seen singing “Tomorrow” on the bring scree, she had two film premieres in 1932 and 1938. The 1932 version (below) followed the traditional adoption story, while the sequel saw her head to Hollywood to work for low wages as a stunt double.

NUMBER 4Broadway musical: The world was introduced to the iconic Annie stage musical 40 years ago, in 1977. Opening just days after the Watergate scandal, Annie was welcomed as a breath of optimism and hope. The original Broadway production won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for almost six years.

NUMBER 5AnnieLater movies:
There have been three movie musical versions of Annie. The 1982 version starred Aileen Quinn and Carol Burnett and differed from the stage show substantially by adding and removing several songs. At the time, it was the most expensive film musical ever made, at about $40 million to produce. Nearly $10 million of that went to buying the rights to the 1977 Broadway source musical. There were more than 500 product tie-ins ranging from umbrellas to lunch boxes. Annie was brought back to the screen in 1999 for a TV movie, followed by a 2014 remake produced by Will Smith and Jay-Z and featuring an African-American Annie, Quvenzhané Wallis.


NUMBER 6Hard Knock-Life
: In 1998, Jay-Z released his version of Hard Knock Life. Originally, he did not have the rights to use the song. So he wrote a letter explaining that he had seen the show on Broadway on a field trip and that it had touched him so much that he cried. That was all it took for him to get the green light for the rights. He later revealed in his autobiography that he actually never saw the show and made up the whole story. 

NUMBER 7Stage sequels:
Annie almost returned to the New York stage with a 1989 sequel called Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge. Even with Dorothy Loudon reprising her role as Miss Hannigan, the production was a disaster and closed during its pre-Broadway run in Washington. Another off-Broadway sequel in 1992 called Annie Warbucks fared better. It starred Harve Presnell and featured Denver’s Michael E. Gold – but it never made it to Broadway.

annie stage

NUMBER 8Forbidden Broadway: Young
Annie found herself in a different kind of role in 1982 when Forbidden Broadway added her to its annual satiric musical revue. In this version Annie is a 30-year-old smoking adult who sings a parody of her iconic “Tomorrow” song.

NUMBER 9Actress AnnieActress who have played Annie:
Over the years, many actresses have played the title role of Annie including Andrea McArdle, Alicia Morton, Quevenzhané Wallis and Sarah Jessica Parker.

NUMBER 10Coming up in Colorado:
Little Orphan Annie will be no stranger to area stages in the coming months. In addition to Phamaly Theatre Company‘s upcoming staging at the Denver Center from July 15- Aug. 6, BDT Stage will be staging Annie from Nov. 18- Feb. 24. Pictured below: The cast of Phamaly’s Annie at a recent promotional benefit appearance for the Denver Actors Fund at the Alamo Drafthouse. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Annie Phamaly

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Phamaly Theatre Company’s Annie: Ticket information
• July 15 through Aug. 6
• Stage Theatre Denver Performing Arts Complex
• Tickets: $20-$37
• Call 303-893-4100 or
• Accessible performances: July 23, Aug. 3

Selected recent NewsCenter coverage of Phamaly:
Phamaly gala, campaign raise $200K, ‘save the company’
Phamaly launches emergency $100,000 fundraising campaign
Regan Linton accepts Spirit of Craig Award
Regan Linton returns to lead Phamaly in landmark appointment

About the author:
Avery-Anderson Avery Anderson is interning with the DCPA NewsCenter for the summer. He is the General Manager and producer of Met TV at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He was won two Heartland Student Emmy Awards for his work on The Met Report. He has a passion for local arts and culture and enjoys covering theatres across the Denver area and the state. Follow him on Twitter and @a_anderson64.

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