Consuming little girls: how Broadway and New York City capitalised on Peggy Sawyer and Little Orphan Annie’s Big Apple dreams

Laura Emily MacDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Towards the end of the musical Annie, Daddy Warbucks sings to Annie, “The world was my oyster but where was the pearl? Who dreamed I would find it in one little girl?”1 Warbucks was not alone: he and Broadway had found the pearl, a cute and spunky little girl whose singing and dancing sold tickets to the tune of $100 million within just five years of opening. Annie opened in 1977, at the end of a recession that had been testing New York since 1969, a period punctuated by the fiscal crisis of 1975. New York City had faced “[s]erious economic losses in terms of population, jobs manufacturers, shipping, and corporate headquarters.” With growing welfare rolls, high unemployment, and extensive homelessness, through the 1970s the city had, as during the Depression, been unable to provide for many of its residents. Annie glorified the spirit and determination of New Yorkers in 1933 while nostalgically presenting poverty and commodifying a little orphan girl. Its overture medley of happy tunes, traditional book structure, and chorus members doubling or tripling up roles referenced classic 1950s musicals rather than contemporary musical theatre trends. Three years later, Annie was joined on Broadway by another background for their stories, and their dreams mirror those of many New Yorkers then and now: success, sometimes at high cost, in a city recognised for its excellence. This article examines the adaptation of Little Orphan Annie and Peggy Sawyer, from the long-running Harold Gray comic strip and the Busby Berkeley film 42nd Street (1933), to investigate why their experiences in 1933 New York City inspired musical theatre creators of the late 1970s and thrilled audiences into the 1980s.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-89
JournalJournal of American Drama and Theatre
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Musical Theatre
  • American Theatre
  • Broadway


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