Note: This entry and the accompanying single were supposed to come out on New Years ’21 – a sort of Prohibition-era vibe – but for various reasons that didn’t happen. Now here we are, past the first quarter, but the kind of quarter it’s been makes this feel even more appropriate.
In 1980, John Huston – father of Anjelica Huston and buddy to Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski – struck some folks as an odd choice to adapt the Broadway musical Annie for television. In retrospect, this may have been for good reason – not because, as some complained, he didn’t have musical theater background and his take on the subject matter was gritty and scant on mirth (which to my mind was actually a positive) – but because his portrayal of little girls, viewed through my now almost 40-year-old eyes, is eyebrow-raising. The choreo involves some questionable knickers shots, and one particular scene (still the favorite of eight-year-old me) of children modeling adult behavior radiates vague Lolita undertones.
However creepy the directorial gaze may be, though – I have to acknowledge that when I was about the age of those girls, the film really spoke to me.
Scrappy ginger Annie herself was all right – the overachieving, community-conscious classmate who’s destined for big things – but it was always the motley supporting cast that captivated me. Pepper, the gravel-throated, pessimistic tomboy with the effortless chocolate bob and genuinely gorgeous singing voice (the one I most wanted to be). Molly, the doe-eyed Napoleon who could fluctuate between whiny infant and NYC cabby at will. And, especially, Kate of the raven braids: a winking cabaret singer in a prepubescent package and my first ever Jewish girl crush.
And of course there was Miss Hannigan, somehow repulsive and irresistible at once, whose sexual desperation squicked me out but whose vintage lingerie and trinkets and luscious glass bottles full of mysterious liquids fascinated me. I’m certain her cocktail of vulnerability and sardonic humor primed me for the brittle schtick of queens like Jinkx Monsoon and Katya Zamo, and for absolute journeys like watching Natalie Wynn expound tipsily in a pile of trash for nearly two hours. Plus it was her redemption arc that first got me mulling over the matter of moral ambiguity in art.
It goes without saying that Tim “Absolute Pleasure” Curry and Bernadette “Greens Greens” Peters foreshadowed many of my eventual predilections… and also I must mention the architecture of the Hudson Street orphanage that was a character itself, with its tall ceilings and twisting staircases and myriad unexpected platforms – deep windowsills, fire escapes, balconies – on which a kid could longingly fantasize about climbing and perching.
So, as 2021 ramps up, have this half-spoofing, half-sincere little ditty I learned from Bert Healy and the lovely Boylan Sisters. Even a smile through clenched teeth can serve a therapeutic purpose.