NEW YORK — Martin Charnin, who made his Broadway debut playing a Jet in the original "West Side Story" and went on to become a Broadway director and a lyricist who won a Tony Award for the score of the eternal hit "Annie," has died. He was 84.
He died Saturday at a White Plains, New York, hospital, days after suffering a minor heart attack, said his daughter, Sasha Charnin Morrison.
"He's in a painless place, now. Probably looking for Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin," Morrison wrote Sunday on Instagram.
Charnin was a keeper of the "Annie" flame, protective of what he created with songwriter Charles Strouse and book writer Thomas Meehan. The 1977 original won the Tony as best musical and ran for 2,300 performances, inspiring tours and revivals that never went out of style.
Charnin attributed the success of "Annie" in part to its sweet optimism and its message that things were going to get better. After all, it was written during a period of instability, he said in 2015.
"We were living in a really tough time. Right in the middle of Nixon. Right in the middle of Vietnam. There was an almost-recession. There was a lot of unrest in the country and you can always feel it and a lot of depression — emotional depression, financial depression. We wanted to be the tap on the shoulder that said to everyone, 'It'll be better.'"
"Annie" nearly didn't make it past the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 1976. Charnin brought in noted stage and film director Mike Nichols, who signed on as a producer, and helped him revise the show.
With Andrea McArdle replacing Kristen Vigard as the red-haired moppet Annie and Dorothy Loudon added as Miss Hannigan, the production went on to open in New York in April 1977 with a bang.
The musical contained gems like "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard Knock Life." Charnin's lyrics, which earned him and Strouse a Tony for best score in 1977, are playful and moving: "You're never fully dressed/without a smile" and "No one cares for you a smidge/when you're in an orphanage."
The 1982 film version, which featured Carol Burnett in Loudon's role, was not nearly as popular or well-received. A stage sequel called "Annie Warbucks" ran off-Broadway in 1993.
The original show was revived on Broadway in 2012 and made into a film starring Quvenzhané Wallis in 2014. Charnin, who won a Grammy Award for the "Annie" cast album, found shards of his work also included in Jay-Z's 1998 Grammy-winning album "Vol. 2. … Hard Knock Life." His song "Tomorrow" has been heard on soundtracks from "Shrek 2" to "Dave" to "You've Got Mail." In 2016, Lukas Graham used parts of the chorus from "Annie" for his "Mama Said" hit.