NEWSFLASH: ANNIE Remake: Will + Willow + Jay-Z


Above: ANNIE in its original Broadway production

So this is how it goes:

1. Will Smith is discussing the possibility of producing a remake of Annie with Sony.
2. Willow Smith would star in the film.
3. Jay-Z will help retool the music, but no word on whether there will be original songs.

That’s all the facts there are for now, so how about a little conjecture?

Maybe it will all be updated and Annie will be a poor black orphan from recent times, with the depression being replaced by the recent recession and the “New Deal” subplot being replaced with the most recent election race. FDR out; Obama in. Warbucks can have made his money off of the Gulf War. Leapin’ lizards – a contemporary setting like that would allow Willow to whip her hair back and forth as much as she likes!

On the other hand, maybe the classic Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan musical will remain a period piece that is cast non-traditionally (like the Pearl Bailey Hello Dolly! or the 1976 revival of Guys and Dolls). Then we could have Ving Rhames as Warbucks, Beyoncé Knowles as Grace, Queen Latifah as as Miss Hannigan, Jamie Foxx as Rooster and Anika Noni Rose as Lily. But would audiences accept a black FDR? Probably not, and at this point it’s starting to sound a bit like a blaxploitation film from the 1970s albeit one without the stereotypes that were prevalent in that genre. However, once the cast becomes multiracial, racial politics begin to emerge because of the historical setting of the show, even though the action of the show is a pure flight of fancy. If a black Annie is mistreated by a white Miss Hannigan, it begins to change the dynamic of the mistreatment. Although I loved her in the role and wouldn’t have things any other way, many people criticised the non-traditional casting of the brilliant Audra McDonald as Grace in the recent television series for reasons along these lines. The point is that whatever path Smith chooses to follow with this remake, I hope he’s prepared for the inevitable challenges that will be presented along the way.

Some people will argue that this kind of film will make more people fans of musical theatre. Every time this kind of project is announced, there are propositions like this, but Raymond Williams has made me skeptical of them. As a general statement, it is flawed. There is no way of predicting the reaction of an individual or a group of people to something like this and it seems clear from examples like Wicked or The Phantom of the Opera, both firm bastions of popular culture in musical theatre themselves, that the crossover from the initial production into a wide and/or deep appreciation of musical theatre is rare. Shows like that don’t sustain the industry, they sustain themselves and kids who are going to get interested in musical theatre are going to do so anyway, whether this Annie is there or not.

The more I think about this, the more I don’t think I’m gonna like it here…

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