‘Annie’, the musical: A podcast breathes new life into the all-time favourite classic
Wondery’s new fiction series ‘Tomorrow’ is a coming-of-age podcast drama with a modern take on the classic musical Annie, reimagining what comes next for Annie and her friends.
Tomorrow has recaptured the magic of Annie, with a fresh perspective and a dash of nostalgia pulled off by a talented cast of voice actors and production.
While the original Annie takes place during the Great Depression in 1933, Wondery sets its story after a new crisis that is more familiar to the listeners – the Covid-19 pandemic.
The story kicks off after the original story ended, as Annie (Abbie-Grace Levi) and her adoptive billionaire father Oliver Warbucks (Lance Reddick) are about to celebrate the five-year anniversary of Annie’s “Gotcha Day”. At the same time, Agatha Hannigan (Laura Benanti), the story’s antagonist, is struggling to find her footing after being released from prison on parole.
But there is something mysterious afoot, and it’s not just the return of Miss Hannigan in her life, and Annie reconnects with her old friends from the orphanage to save her family before it’s too late.
Annie lovers will recognise some other familiar characters in the show, with her dog Sandy still faithfully by Annie’s side and Mr Warbucks’s butler, Drake (Alan Ruck), has been rewritten as an artificial intelligence system, who does everything from drive Annie around New York to make her smoothies in the morning.
While the podcast has masterfully encapsulated the joy and excitement of the original story, it has also incorporated more difficult topics that had previously been glossed over.
The rags-to-riches narrative that Annie is living out is glamorous and fun, as Annie live-streams her day-to-day activities and is chauffeured on her adventures by Drake.
However, the show also pieces together the lives of Annie’s fellow orphans, most of whom did not get so lucky. A few were adopted after Mr Warbucks entered their lives, and it is mentioned that Annie and her new father have been advocating for children in care, and some children never got the same happy-ever-after.
Pepper, who was the eldest of the girls in care, has continued to struggle, becoming an emancipated minor, and has taken up residence as a squatter in the abandoned orphanage. The original show will have a viewer believe that it was Annie’s unending optimism, hope and positivity that was behind her adoption, but Pepper’s experience is far closer to reality, where many older children struggle to be adopted.
Oliver Warbucks is also the subject of some difficult conversations. Warbucks, who in this recreation has somewhat of a Bezos-Muskian quality to him with his “family” of AI drones that supposedly work as a delivery service, is the richest man in America, and yet several characters express their discomfort with the wealth he holds.
His wealth combined with the security access and capabilities that the drones possess places him in a position of great power; power some characters feel should not be held by one man alone.
It also appears that Annie, who has started calling him “Dad Warbucks” (at 15, she is getting too old to call him “Daddy”, she tells him) is busy questioning the world around her. But while she recognises her privilege at times, she remains naive to how her father operates. This is not inherently a character flaw – Annie sees injustice in the world but is not yet able to understand how her father might be contributing to it. As the show develops, it will be interesting to see how Annie develops, and whether she too will begin to question her father’s intentions and goals as an uber-successful businessman who, the audience is told, financially benefited from the pandemic.
Miss Hannigan is another character that is portrayed in a slightly different way. Wondery does not excuse her behaviour or treatment of the children under her care, but rather explores how she has grown in the five years since her incarceration. Her stream-of-consciousness monologues give her an edge that was missed in the previous films and shows, where the listener at times struggles to know what is being said out loud and what is not. She is a complex character, torn between bitterness about what happened to her and a resolve to be a better person and build a better life, and mutter monologues give the audience a glimpse into the mind of the “villain”.
In a reworked version of Hannigan’s solo Little Girls, the song featured in the podcast is much more sympathetic than the original, which was laced with venom. Instead, Hannigan here sings of dashed dreams which forced her to take a job at the orphanage, and how each child in her care reminds her about what could have been. Again, it does not justify her actions, Hannigan has deservedly served her time, but it does add complexity to the narrative of an unredeemable villain.
Little Girls is not the only song to feature, and the podcast has reworked much of the original score. When Annie and her friends are reunited, they of course sing It’s the Hard-Knock Life together, and the classic Tomorrow is often heard throughout the episodes, played as the theme tune, whispered by Annie under her breath or in soft melodies in the background.
The episodes are about 20 minutes long, with a new instalment released each Monday, and can be found on the Wondery website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more. Whether the listener is new to Annie or a returning fan, this is a revival of a musical favourite that is not to be missed. DM/ML