‘Annie’ Melted ‘Daddy Warbucks” Heart, Can Musical Occupy Wall Street’s Hearts?

There has to be a reason the musical “Annie” is being produced by so many regional theater groups nationwide, including the Riverdale Children’s Theatre (RCT), in the Bronx, N.Y., this coming January. One obvious reason is that Broadway, 200 blocks to the south, is reviving it in 2012, and smaller companies won’t have access to the rights to the musical for a long, long time.

But the main reason may lie at the corner of Cedar and Broadway in Lower Manhattan where Occupy Wall Street protests are ensconced in Zucotti Park, which is a only a hop, skip and a jump from Occupy’s nemesis, Goldman Sachs, and the old site of the World Trade Center and the 9/11 scar. Both GS and 9/11 terribly damaged America, helping speed the onset of the Great Depression No. 2, whose groundwork was laid with “Saint” Reagan’s election in 1980, which touched off three decades of deregulations that removed barriers meant to stop elite bankers and financiers of Wall Street from igniting another Depression. After 9/11, tycoons not unlike “Annie’s” “Daddy Warbucks” used the “Global War on Terror” as a reason to milk the lower classes dry and overfill their pockets.

The first Great Depression began similarly. World War I had scarred America and the world, too. After “the war to end all wars,” an initial step in imagining “the world being as one” began with the abortive League of Nations. But the world humiliated Germany with outrageous penalties-laying the groundwork for the Roaring 20s, which enabled the ultra-rich “elites” to sock the downtrodden before stocks and people finally crashed in October 1929.

Herbert Hoover, like Reagan, George H.W., Clinton, George W., and now Obama believed in fewer if any regulations and waited for the “cycles” of capitalism to save jobless people reduced to living in shanty towns with cardboard for housing and blankets and “dumpster diving” for food (in the 1930s) in Riverside Park, Central Park, and under the 59th Street bridge. As of now, in New York, Zucotti Park, holds the only make-shift shelters, but dumpster-diving is fully employed. The 1930’s shanty towns were quickly christened “Hoovervilles.” And one song from the RCT production of “Annie” is the slyly sarcastic “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover.” Hoover was the president before FDR, who is portrayed as the polar opposite of Warbucks in “Annie.”

In the context of RCT’s production, staged with kids ages 5-12, that song in particular becomes a mind-bending showstopper (out of many in the production), thanks to Charles Strouse’s thrilling melody and Martin Charnin’s razor-sharp lyrics. By staging that ironic brightness this January at the Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College in the Bronx, RCT’s Becky Lillie-Woods and Derek Woods brilliantly contrast it with the Crash of 2008 and the burgeoning make-shift tents in Zucotti Park along with Occupy protests nationwide as the real jobless rate in the U.S. surpasses 20% and nears the first Great Depression’s 25% mark. It makes the seemingly light-hearted melody of “We’d Like to Thank You…” cut deep into one’s soul, the way Kander and Ebb songs did in “Cabaret,” another Broadway hit about the tightening Nazi noose on civil rights after the 1929 crash.

After hearing “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover” and seeing it staged, the melody and dances haunt you. You don’t know why until you realize the kids performing it could be just one more Wall Street/Warbucks-style ploy from living in shantytowns with their families-that is, if they are lucky, as both health care and unemployment checks fade away under duress from the Warbucks of 2011.

Here, then, are the lyrics:


Today we’re living in a shanty
Today we’re scrounging for a meal


Today I’m stealing coal for fires
Who knew I could steal?


I used to winter in the tropics


I spent my summers at the shore


I used to throw away the paper–

He don’t anymore!
We’d like to thank you: Herber Hoover
For really showing us the way
We’d like to thank you: Herbert Hoover
You made us what we are today

Prosperity was ’round the corner
A cozy cottage built for two
In this blue heaven
That you
Gave us

We’re turning blue!
They offered us Al Smith and Hoover
We paid attention and we chose
Not only did we pay attention
We paid through the nose.

In ev’ry pot he said “a chicken”
But Herbert Hoover he forgot
Not only don’t we have the chicken
We ain’t got the pot!
Hey Herbie


You left behind a grateful nation


So, Herb, our hats are off to you
We’re up to here with admiration


Come down and have a little stew


Come down and share some Christmas dinner
Be sure to bring the missus too
We got no turkey for our stuffing
So why don’t we stuff you
We’d like to thank you, Herbert Hoover
For really showing us the way
You dirty rat, you Bureaucrat, you
Made us what we are today
Come and get it, Herb!

Hoover was originally a professional mining engineer and author. As the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted partnerships between government and business under the rubric “economic modernization”. In the presidential election of 1928, he easily won the Republican nomination, despite having no previous elected office experience.

Hoover, a trained engineer, deeply believed in the so-called Efficiency Movement, which held that the government and the economy were riddled with inefficiency and waste (similar to Reagan’s philosophy of the 1980s), and could be improved by experts (capitalists) who could identify the problems and solve them. When the Wall Street Crash of 1929 struck less than eight months after he took office, Hoover tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression with volunteer efforts, public works projects such as the Hoover Dam, tariffs such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, an increase in the top tax bracket from 25% to 63% (something Obama stands no chance with), and increases in corporate taxes, none of which produced economic recovery during his term. The consensus among historians is that Hoover’s loss to FDR in the 1932 election was caused by failure to end the downward economic spiral.

Hoover entered office with a plan to reform the nation’s regulatory system, believing that a federal bureaucracy should have limited regulation over a country’s economic system-exactly what Reagan, H.W., Clinton, W. and Obama have done. A self-described progressive and reformer, Hoover saw the presidency as a vehicle for improving the conditions of all Americans by encouraging public-private cooperation-what he termed “volunteerism.” Hoover saw volunteerism as preferable to governmental coercion or intervention which he-along with Reagan–saw as opposed to the American ideals of individualism and self-reliance.

But Hoover did many wonderful things that FDR later extended and received credit for. Hoover expanded civil service coverage of federal positions, instructed the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service to pursue gangsters for tax evasion, and appointed a commission that set aside 3 million acres of national parks and 2.3 million acres of national forests (something no one since Clinton has even thought about); closed certain tax loopholes for the wealthy; doubled the number of veterans’ hospital facilities (a sore spot, certainly, after the first and second Iraq wars); wrote a Children’s Charter that advocated protection of every child regardless of race or gender (foreseeing Eleanor Roosevelt’s Human Rights Charter); proposed a federal Department of Education (seen as dispensable by Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the last GOP presidential debate); advocated $50-per-month pensions for Americans over 65 (not even thought about now); and chaired White House conferences on child health, protection, homebuilding and home-ownership (a glaringly weak spot in Obama’s reign).

Overall, however, Hoover feared that too much intervention or coercion by the government would destroy individuality and self-reliance, which was the Tea Party’s “credo” just a few months ago.

Although he was progressive and FDR kept and expanded many of his programs, calls for greater government assistance increased as the U.S. economy continued to decline after 1929; and Hoover rejected direct federal relief payments to individuals, as he believed that “the dole” would be addictive, and reduce the incentive to work. Among his progressive programs was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. The legislation raised tariffs on thousands of imported items. The intent of the Act was to encourage the purchase of American-made products by increasing the cost of imported goods, while raising revenue for the federal government and protecting farmers. (Contrast that with Clinton’s NAFTA and free-trade agreements that have sent Americans’ jobs overseas.) However, economic depression now spread through much of the world, and other nations increased tariffs on American-made goods in retaliation, reducing international trade, and worsening the Depression.

By 1932, the Great Depression had spread across the globe. In the U.S., unemployment had reached 24.9%, a drought persisted in the central United States particularly in Oklahoma and Texas, businesses and families defaulted on record numbers of loans, and more than 5,000 banks had failed. (Apparently none were “too big to fail” as per the Crash of 2008) Tens-of-thousands of Americans found themselves homeless and began congregating in the numerous Hoovervilles, from Seattle to NYC. Hoover’s stance on the economy had been based largely on voluntarism (See George H.W.’s “thousand points of light” baloney in 1988), expecting churches and social institutions to aid the poor. However, faced with a tide of poverty, Hoover and the Congress approved the Federal Home Loan Bank Act, to spur new home construction and reduce foreclosures. The plan seemed to work, as foreclosures dropped, but it was seen as too little, too late. (Does that mean that Obama is too late? Likely.)

“Annie” was first produced for audiences at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House more than 34 years ago. Since then 50 million people of all ages have enjoyed and been edified by two Broadway stints, five national U.S. companies, two West End runs, two hit movies and dozens of international productions, and the show is still going strong locally, as with RCT this January.

Based on the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip which debuted in 1924 and ran for over 80 years, “Annie” is set in Depression Era New York City at a time when the economy looked bleak, government seemed ineffective and the average citizen was desperate and frustrated. Sound familiar? With its hopeful message (see Obama?) and unwavering belief in a better tomorrow, “Annie” became one of the biggest Broadway musical hits of the 1970s, running for almost six years and playing 2,377 performances. The musical won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book (Thomas Meehan) and Best Score (Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin).

In many ways, “Annie” is a modern-day Cinderella story. Cast aside by society, “Annie” remains ever positive, ever confident that she will find the home of her dreams. With equal measures of pluck and positivity, sass and sympathy, courage and compassion, she wins the hearts of those around her without ever losing sight of her humble beginnings and her simple aspiration to one day find a place for herself and her devoted dog Sandy in a loving family.

Eighty years ago the American Dream was still alive. My father, a World War II veteran and benefactor of FDR’s Social Security programs, retired at age 62 with a full pension and health insurance that enabled him to live to age 82.

To protesters at Occupy Wall Street, and at Occupy gatherings nationwide, the American Dream is dead. The Daddy Warbucks of Wall Street and Washington, D.C., have won. Today’s “Warbucks” have never met their own version of Annie and been taught that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Perhaps their “Annies” are right outside their doors in Zucotti Park?

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