May 3, 1978: Little orphan Annie appears on the West End stage

Annie is a Broadway musical based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan. The original Broadway production opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, setting a record for the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre). It spawned numerous productions in many countries, as well as national tours, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The musical’s songs “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life” are among its most popular musical numbers.

Annie-1978The musical premiered in the West End at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Andrea McArdle, the original Broadway Annie, played the title role for 40 performances. British 12-year-old Ann Marie Gwatkin was also cast in the title role and appeared on the Original London cast recording. The Opening night cast and the original sound track of children were Claire Hood, Jane Collins, Dawn Napier, Annette Mason, Helen Stephenson, Jackie Ekers and Linda Brewis. Ann Marie Gwatkin alternated with Christine Hyland and four other Annies were cast at this point: Anne O’Rourke, Jacinta Whyte, Helen Thorne, Rosa Michelle who were to play the role over the next year. Following this Ann Marie Gwatkin and Jackie Ekers shared the title role followed by many other casts of Annie. Miss Hannigan was originally played by Sheila Hancock, and later by Maria Charles and Stella Moray; Daddy Warbucks was played by Stratford Johns and later by Charles West, with Deborah Clarke playing Pepper in the first year and Melanie Grant playing Molly.

Annie closed on 28 November 1981, after 1,485 performances.

The musical transferred to the Bristol Hippodrome for a special Christmas season before touring Britain. Because of strict British employment laws for juvenile actors, a succession of actresses took on the lead role every four months. One of the last girls to perform the role at the Victoria Palace before the show went on tour was 10-year-old Claudia Bradley from Leeds who was featured on a 1981 BBC programme called Fame.

The show was revived at the Victoria Palace, running from 30 September 1998 to 28 February 1999. It starred Lesley Joseph and then Lily Savage (the female alter ego of comedian Paul O’Grady) as Miss Hannigan and Kevin Colson as Warbucks. The young girls who played Annie were Charlene Barton, Tasha Gold, Libby Gore and Sophie McShera. [Wikipedia]

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