Leapin’ Lizards! Annie Manuscript Comes to Hamilton
The original draft manuscript to what would become the musical sensation Annie — with handwritten annotations by its author Thomas Meehan ’51 — has found a home in Hamilton’s permanent collection. The prized piece of musical theatre history reflects the genius of one of the most influential playwrights of the 20th century.
I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here
The Manuscript’s Path to Hamilton
Maas was proud to have the script to Annie and he planned to one day donate it to Hamilton, the first place, he said, he ever felt like he had a family. Sometime in the 1990s, Carolyn Meehan asked to see the manuscript, and Gerry loaned it to her. Time passed, the friends remained connected, but the manuscript never again left Mrs. Meehan’s care. The manuscript moved with the couple in 2004 from their home on Jane Street to West 10th St. in Greenwich Village where it remained through Maas’s passing in 2008 and Tom Meehan’s death in 2017.
In May of 2023, Carolyn Meehan’s daughter, Carrie Capstick, a psychologist in New York City who had long been connected to Hamilton as a trusted referral for the Counseling Center, and then as the aunt of Lily Capstick ’18, reached out to Dave Walden, director of counseling and psychological services. She asked if he might help facilitate the donation of the manuscript to the College. In November, the manuscript was added to Hamilton’s College Archives. The bulk of Meehan’s works are housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
The Sun Will Come Out …
How Annie Came to the Stage
After his Hamilton graduation, Tom Meehan served briefly in the U.S. Army before embarking on a career as a writer for the famed “Talk of The Town” section in The New Yorker. In 1962, he wrote a short story titled “Yma Dream” that caught the attention of Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks, who teamed to work with Meehan on a television sketch comedy adaptation that earned an Emmy Award.
His work also prompted lyricist Martin Charnin to approach him about a different project — a musical. Meehan said he was game … until Charnin told him his idea was to adapt the comic strip ‘Little Orphan Annie.’ According to a 1977 interview in The New York Times, Meehan’s initial reaction was “swift and succinct: ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’”
But, ever up for a challenge, Meehan tentatively agreed. He began by rereading the comic strip, but was unable to find any inspirational material for a musical other than the characters of Annie, Oliver Warbucks, and Sandy. Clearly he would have to come up with a plot and storyline. A New Yorker himself, Meehan envisioned that city as the backdrop and selected the Great Depression as the time period. He once noted that he was inspired by orphan characters created by Charles Dickens, such as Oliver Twist.
Although the show took five years to complete, it eventually premiered on Broadway in 1977 and ran for nearly six years. It spawned numerous productions in many countries, as well as national tours, and won seven Tony Awards, including for Best Musical.
(Fun Fact: The character of Grace Farrell, secretary to Oliver Warbucks and caretaker to Annie, was originated on Broadway by Sandy Faison K’72!)
I Don’t Need Anything But You
A Little About Tom Meehan ’51
An English major at Hamilton, Tom Meehan long had a penchant for writing, theatre, and humor. On the Hill, he participated with the Charlatans and on the staffs of The Spectator, the Continental, and the Hamiltonian. He was also a member of Theta Delta Chi, where he was known for his “party spirit and endurance,” according to the 1951 Hamiltonian.
After Annie’s blockbuster success, Meehan became one of the most prolific Broadway writers. Despite enjoying success relatively late in his career — he was 47 when Annie made its debut — he would join forces with Mel Brooks to work on the musical adaptation of his film The Producers in 2001 (which captured a record-setting 12 Tonys) and Young Frankenstein in 2007. Meehan had a further huge hit with the musical Hairspray in 2002 (eight Tonys). He also co-wrote the books for the musicals Rocky, Chaplin, Elf, Cry-Baby, Bombay Dreams, I Remember Mama, Ain’t Broadway Grand, and Annie Warbucks. In addition, he was a collaborator on a number of screenplays, including Brooks’ Spaceballs and To Be Or Not To Be.
It was noted in Meehan’s 2017 memorial biography that he holds the honor of being the only writer of the books for three Broadway shows to run for more than 2,000 performances — Annie (2,377), The Producers (2,502), and Hairspray (2,642). In 2012, he had the distinction of having three productions running on Broadway concurrently: Annie, Elf, and Chaplin.
“Ever grateful to his alma mater, he established the endowed Thomas E. Meehan Prize in Creative Writing, awarded to students each spring,” the biography noted. “In 2002, Hamilton presented Meehan with an honorary degree. ‘As a student on this Hill, you fell in love with Faulkner and sought to write in his vein,’ the citation noted. ‘But somehow, your sense of humor kept getting in the way. It turned out to be your true métier, leading you on a path, with many twists and turns, to outstanding achievement.’”