Broadway Musical Hit-Maker Thomas Meehan Dead (Photos)

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Broadway Musical Hit-Maker Thomas Meehan Dead (Photos) Promo Image

Thomas Meehan, multiple Tony Award-winner, has died. He was 88.

Meehan, who won Tony Awards for writing the books for "Annie," "The Producers" and "Hairspray," died on Aug. 21 at his home in Manhattan, reports The New York Times.

As the website Musicals 101 explains, "The book (also called the libretto) is the least appreciated and yet most dramatically important element of a musical. It is the narrative structure that keeps the score from being nothing more than a disjointed medley of songs."

His first big hit was "Annie" in 1977, which ran for 2,377 performances, and has become a staple of American musical theater.

When first approached in 1972 to adapt the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" for Broadway, he thought it was a joke.

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"Although I'd read 'Little Orphan Annie' as a child in the 1930s," he wrote, "I'd forgotten that it was basically nothing more than a series of totally improbable adventures, in which Annie, for example, was stranded on a desert isle or lost in the jungles of South America or held prisoner in a waterfront warehouse by a Fu Manchu‐like Oriental madman. We'd set out to write a realistic, three-dimensional musical," he added, "and what I had to work from was a series of unrealistic, two-dimensional, two-inch squares."

It took five years for Meehan to complete the musical, along with lyricist Martin Charnin and composer Charles Strouse.
Born in 1929, Meehan said his childhood was spent listening to programs on the family's radio and going to the movies.

"At the local movie house, the Lafayette Theater, on Lafayette Avenue, the double‐feature program was changed three times a week, and my brother Bob and I indiscriminately turned up at the box office whenever there was a new show to be seen," he wrote in a 1971 article in The Times.

"For 10 years, as a matter of fact," he continued, "from about 1938 to 1948, my brother and I regularly saw six movies a week at the Lafayette, or 312 movies a year, or a mind‐boggling total of 3,120 movies during the entire period."

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While working at The New Yorker magazine in 1962, he wrote a short story called "Yma Dream," a fantasy about party guests with unusual first names. It caught the attention of Martin Charnin, which led their work on "Annie."

It also caught the attention of Mel Brooks, which also led to a successful collaboration.

Meehan worked with Brooks on the 1987 movie "Spaceballs," and the Broadway adaptation of the 1967 Brooks film "The Producers," which ran for more than 2,500 performances and won numerous Tony Awards in 2001.

He followed that blockbuster with an even more successful musical, "Hairspray," adapted from the 1988 John Waters film of the same name. With music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the show opened in 2002 and ran for 2,642 performances.

Meehan's recent Broadway credits include "Elf," adapted from the 2003 film, and "Rocky," adapted from his 1976 Oscar-winning movie.

At the time of his death, Meehan was reworking the musical version of Mel Brooks's 2007 Broadway version of "Young Frankenstein."

Sources: The New York Times, Musicals 101 / Featured Image: Martha Swope/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times, Mary Altaffer/Associated Press via The New York Times.

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