Martin Charnin, the Tony Award Winning creator of ANNIE passed away on July 6, 2019 at age 84. With more than 40 productions to his credit, Charnin wrote lyrics for seven Broadway musicals. He won the Tony Award for best original score along with composer Charles Strouse for ANNIE in 1977. The show won seven Tony Awards in all including Best Musical. Charnin also received three Emmy Awards for his work on television variety specials and a Grammy for Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” (Ghetto Anthem) which sampled his lyrics for the song from ANNIE.
Charnin conceived the musical ANNIE from the Harold Gray comic strip about Little Orphan Annie, a street-smart youngster who goes to live with a wealthy bachelor during the Great Depression. “I guess when you’re in the business of making musicals, you look for ideas, you look for source material anywhere,” he told The Guardian in 2016. “At that particular moment, all of Dickens had been taken, it all had been musicalized. If I’d found it in a bubblegum wrapper, I guess I’d have tried to get the rights to it. I had bought the book as a gift but read it first and ultimately ended up not giving it away, I was so taken by Harold Gray’s original drawings.”
Charnin directed the original production as well. It played for 2,377 performances on Broadway in its original run and has become a fixture of American musical theater. “No matter how you bend it, it just doesn’t break — it’s just one of those iconic musicals in the history of theater, and we are very grateful and lucky and thrilled about how it has survived,” Charnin told Broadway World in 2014. “In point of fact, there really aren’t a lot of things out there like ANNIE.”
Born Martin Jay Charnin on Nov. 24, 1934, he grew up in New York, the son of an opera singer. He received his BFA from Cooper Union, and after graduating, he spotted an open call for actors, singers and dancers for WEST SIDE STORY, then an unknown musical. Although he had no performance training, he went to the audition and landed the part of Big Deal, one of the original Jets, in the premiere Broadway production in 1957. He went on to perform the role 1,000 times in New York and across the country. “Director Jerome Robbins was looking for authentic juvenile delinquents, and I thought I could be one of them,” he said. “It was astonishing. I had never done a musical before, and to this day I have no idea why I got the role. I guess I was eccentric. I made the playwright Arthur Laurents laugh when I read some of the lines he gave me to do.”
Throughout his career, Charnin directed several productions of ANNIE. “The fun of it for me is that every time I do it, I learn something new about it, and in theory every production that precedes the one I’m doing makes the one I’m doing the beneficiary of the stuff that I’ve learned,” Charnin said. “So it keeps growing, it keeps changing.”
In the 1990s, Charnin directed The Flowering Peach on Broadway and worked on a sequel to Annie called Annie Warbucks, which he wrote alongside Meehan and Strouse. The musical had out-of-town tryouts in Chicago and was slated for Broadway, but the Main Stem production fell through after a major investor pulled out. The show opened off-Broadway in 1993. Charnin worked up until his death, directing shows, and he was always looking for the next project. When asked if he ever had plans to retire, he told The Guardian, “Oh, God no, I still have shows to write and direct.”
Information excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter. You can see the complete article here.