Annie Creator Martin Charnin Shares His Most Unforgettable Theatrical Experiences

Favorite Things   Annie Creator Martin Charnin Shares His Most Unforgettable Theatrical Experiences
 
From West Side Story to Barbra Streisand and Fun Home, the Tony-winning lyricist reflects on his life in the theatre.
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Martin Charnin, who began his career as an actor in the original cast of the groundbreaking musical West Side Story, is best known for co-creating and directing what may be the most successful family musical of all time, the Tony-winning Annie. Charnin, whose Broadway credits also include Hot Spot, Nash at Nine, I Remember Mama, The First, and more, also directed the current tour of Annie, which will next be seen at the Rabobank Theatre in Bakersfield, CA, in January 2017 (click here for ticket information and the complete itinerary for the tour). Here, the Tony-winning lyricist looks back on his lengthy career and shares 10 of his most memorable experiences as an actor, director, and theatregoer.

The gypsy run through of West Side Story in August of 1957.

Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert in a promotional photo for West Side Story.
Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert in a promotional photo for West Side Story.

I played Big Deal—one of Jerry Robbins' original "authentic juvenile delinquents"—in West Side Story. It was my first Broadway show. As exciting as it was to be in the show (singing “Gee Officer Krupke”), at the run through on the stage of the Broadway Theatre after his secretly rehearsing “Something's Coming,” Larry Kert sang the song for the first time, for the cast and the invitees, and got a richly deserved standing ovation. Thrilling beyond belief.

Having to tell Barbra Streisand "no" in 1963.

Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand Bravo Photo

Mary Rodgers and I had written a musical called Hot Spot and wanted Barbra to play the leading role, going as far as personally teaching her three scenes and two songs from the show. She auditioned for the other powers to be, on the stage of the then 46th Street Theatre....to deafening silence. At the end of the audition, all our director and producers said was “thank you.” I raced outside to the sidewalk and apologized profusely...to no avail. Upon coming back into the theatre, I stood on the stage and screamed at the top of my lungs to all, “You are making the biggest mistake of your life!” Weeks later she signed to do Funny Girl.

Out of town with David Merrick in 1967.

David Merrick
David Merrick Kenn Duncan

Mata Hari was an unmitigated disaster. At the last preview performance in Washington, our Mata Hari is tied to a stake and shot by a firing squad. But her enormous black eyelashes were not properly glued on, and with her chin in her neck, using her tied hand, Marisa Mell, theatrically dead, reached around and stuck the eyelash back onto her eye. David Merrick closed us in Washington.

The Alvin Theatre, opening night of Annie in 1977.

Reid-Shelton, Andrea-McAndle, Sandy-Faison.jpg
Reid Shelton, Andrea McAndle, and Sandy Faison in Annie

The incredible sound of the audience's response to Andrea McArdle singing “Tomorrow” still resonates today and gets me through any and all of my darkest moments, onstage and off.

Number 4 on my Bucket List—Lena Horne's one-woman show at the Nederlander Theatre.

Lena Horne  in <i>The Lady and Her Music</i>
Lena Horne in The Lady and Her Music

I had wanted to have my songs sung by Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Lena Horne. Johnny and Tony had. Frank hadn't. It wasn't looking good. Then, for her one-woman show in the 80's, Lena called and asked me to write something for her. I wrote the music and lyrics for a song called “Fly,” and she stopped the show cold, night after night... and introduced it by saying it was written by “Annie's Daddy.”

Hearing Shelly Burch singing “A Very Unusual Way” in Nine in 1981.

Tommy Tune and the Cast <i>Nine</i>
Tommy Tune and the Cast Nine Peter Cunningham

Shelly was in Annie playing Star-to-be, for some 800-plus performances, until Tommy Tune stole her away to play Claudia in Nine. I was really pissed and reluctantly went to her opening. She was glorious, and though I never really forgave her, I eventually got over it. About 23 years later, we got married.

Seeing the set of Cafe Crown for the first time, on Broadway.

Eli-Wallach, Bob-Dishy, anne-Jackson, (rear LR) Laura-Sametz, David-Carroll &amp; Steven-Skybell
Eli Wallach, Bob Dishy, Anne Jackson, Laura Sametz, David Carroll, and Steven Skybell in Cafe Crown Martha Swope

I directed the revival for Joe Papp in the 80's, and ultimately it moved from the Newman into the Brooks Atkinson. Santo Loquasto designed the breathtaking and historically accurate Second Avenue Restaurant, and assured me that no changes would occur in the move. None did. It was as gorgeous uptown as it was downtown, and Santo won a Tony.

Angela and Marian, together in the 90's.

Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury in <i>Deuce</i>
Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury in Deuce Joan Marcus

I had the privilege of directing Angela Lansbury in a failed play in the early 70's and Marian Seldes in a failed musical in the late 70's....But in 2007 these two titans sat in a simple bleacher-like set in a play called Deuce. There wasn't a lot of staging....just two grand dames verbally slugging it out, for about 90 intermission-less minutes. I saw it four times.

Neil Patrick Harris in drag.

Neil Patrick Harris stepped into the iconic heels of <i>Hedwig and the Angry Inch</i>
Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch Joan Marcus

There are expectations, and then there are EXPECTATIONS! For all the hype that's rarely, if ever, lived up to, Neil's recent performance was simply extraordinary, and one of the truly unforgettable realizations and definitions of that word.

The three kids in Fun Home.

Oscar Williams, Zell Steele Morrow, and Sydney Lucas in <i>Fun Home</i>
Oscar Williams, Zell Steele Morrow, and Sydney Lucas in Fun Home Joan Marcus

I've worked, a lot, with children. By last count, over 3,700...but those in Fun Home took the cake. The sad thing is that they weren't captured on film (except illegally by grandparents' cellphone cameras, I guess.) However, for whatever it's worth, they live in my library of memories, forever.

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