TV review: PBS goes behind the scenes of 'Annie'


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Thanks to NBC's "Smash" and PBS specials like last September's "Broadway or Bust," the world of professional theater production has started to regain more of an outlet on TV than it has enjoyed for decades. Add to that roster the latest PBS special, "Annie: It's the Hard-Knock Life, From Script to Stage" (9 p.m. Friday, WQED-TV), a one-hour special about the making of the 2012 Broadway revival of the 1977 musical hit "Annie."

Annie: It's the Hard-Knock Life, From Script to Stage

When: 9 p.m. Friday, WQED-TV.

It's a decent look behind the scenes, well-suited to Broadway novices or kids and teens who think they might want a career in the theater -- too bad it doesn't air an hour earlier -- but it's by no means a warts-and-all look at the challenges characteristic of a high-profile Broadway workplace.

Produced and directed by Josh Seftel, "From Script to Stage" bounces back and forth from the young actresses cast as orphans to the work of behind-the-scenes crew members such as choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, costume designer Susan Hilferty and set designer David Korins.

The whole hour's focus is on the staging of one particular production number, "It's a Hard-Knock Life," and the hour ends with that number interspersed with flashbacks to key moments in its production. It's an effective device that demonstrates just how many decisions must be made in the production of a Broadway show.

Mr. Blankenbuehler agonizes over the choreography and whether to ape the original's use of buckets and mops.

"I have to give [the audience] what they expect or I have to give them something totally different," he says, flummoxed as to the best course of action. Eventually, he settles on choreography that pays homage to the original while taking an amusing new approach.

Broadway devotees will no doubt decry the lack of attention paid to the show's director -- James Lapine appears briefly -- but the program makes up for it with several interviews with the original 1977 "Annie" brain trust: lyricist/director Martin Charnin, writer Thomas Meehan and composer Charles Strouse.

This troika offers some historical context for creating the musical and a reaction to the 1982 "Annie" movie's version of "It's a Hard-Knock Life."

"We meant it to show children in despair, but they looked like the happiest children in the world," says one of the "Annie" veterans of the movie's orphans sliding down a banister with big grins.

"From Script to Stage" also plays up the bonds that form among the young "Annie" cast and how one of them ages out of stuffed animals through the course of rehearsals. That emphasis on kids makes "From Script to Stage" a safe glimpse behind the curtain that's cute and sometimes informative but dramatically sanitized.

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TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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