You're never fully dressed without a smile — and Annie Live brought plenty to our faces.
The latest live TV musical continued the tradition with a feel-good, rousing rendition of crowd-pleaser Annie. It's hard to mess up the winning score from Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, but NBC crafted a fantastic production with a stellar cast that made for a touching reminder of why this show is a gateway to musical theater for so many kids.
Annie, inspired by the original comic, follows an orphaned moppet (Celina Smith) who dreams of finding the real parents who left her at the orphanage as a baby. Terrorized by Miss Hannigan (Taraji P. Henson), her life turns upside down when millionaire Oliver Warbucks (Harry Connick Jr.) brings her home for Christmas, courtesy of his secretary, Miss Grace (Nicole Scherzinger). While Annie finds a new life of luxury, she teaches Daddy Warbucks what he's been missing the most — family.
Below, we've rounded up the many, many highs from this big-hearted confection and the occasional misses. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have to go scrub our floors until they shine like the top of the Chrysler building.
Virginia Sherwood/NBC The orphans perform 'It's the Hard Knock Life'
It's a hard knock life...
This opening ensemble number (following Annie's plaintive "Maybe") is always a highlight, incorporating mops, buckets, and rag towels into a dance number. But this production brought "It's the Hard Knock Life" to the next level, adding in aerial stunts, flips, and a superb stepping sequence. It felt both wholly true to the text and refreshingly modern and original. There's something purely joyful about watching a group of kids sing their hearts out while plotting ways to take down Miss Hannigan. Watching this was anything but a hard-knock life — and as a bonus, the kids wowed again on their other number, "Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."
Virginia Sherwood/NBC Celina Smith with Sandy the dog in 'Annie Live'
Sandy is the very best boy
Dog lovers everywhere, rejoice! Sandy the dog does indeed have a role in this edition of Annie, and he's a very good boy indeed! When first introduced at the top of the show, the furry friend dutifully ran to Annie during her confrontation with the policeman, and even sweetly laid down at her feet as she pet him. Kudos to the camera operators for giving the people what they want — that is, all the pup close ups, especially at the end when he got presented to Annie with a big red bow on. Live animals are notoriously hard to wrangle for these types of things, so the fact that Sandy didn't cause any hiccups is an early Christmas miracle. Our only complaint? The fact he wasn't in every frame of the show.
"Easy Street" is one of the most delicious villain songs in the musical theater canon with Miss Hannigan, Lily St. Regis, and Rooster warbling and strutting their way through its jazzy strains. But for some reason, Megan Hilty seemed the only one to understand the assignment here. While Henson and Tituss Burgess were excellent in all other regards, they were bizarrely low energy until the final chorus of this number, taking some of the luster out of Easy Street.
Virginia Sherwood/NBC A bald Harry Connick Jr. and Celina Smith in 'Annie Live'
The bald cap from hell
Who knew Voldemort had a part in Annie? The crinkly skin folds, the unnatural blending, the covering up of Connick Jr.'s perfect head of hair — it's all such a sin. The cap had EW staffers dreading any time the crooner had to turn his head lest He Who Shall Not Be Named burst forth. Annie doesn't have to have bright red hair, which begs the question: Why did Daddy Warbucks have to be bald?
Daddy Warbucks plays piano!
We love a good knowing in-joke, and one of the biggest laughs of the night was Annie marveling at Daddy Warbucks' ability to play the piano. But even better was getting to watch Connick Jr. tinkle the ivories on songs like "Anything But You" and "Something Was Missing." It gave Warbucks an air of fun he doesn't often have, and of course was a fantastic way to showcase the musician's skills. Now we kinda wish Nora Ephron had directed a production of Annie.
Zach Dilgard/NBC Celina Smith as Annie, Nicole Scherzinger as Grace Farrell, Harry Connick, Jr. as Daddy Warbucks in 'Annie Live'
The actual grace that is Nicole Scherzinger
As Grace, Scherzinger brought the dance acumen and vocal chops the role requires, but she also added a welcome bit of heart to the production. True to her time on The Masked Singer, she cried at the right moments with little Annie, and all of her lines were delivered with the appropriate warmth. She also pulled off all the very colorful wardrobe choices given to her with her trademark glam. And, according to the LA Times, her "We Got Annie" number was done in tribute to Ann Reinking, who played Grace in the 1982 film version of the musical and who died last year. We think she nailed it.
Virginia Sherwood/NBC Taraji P. Henson and Tituss Burgess in 'Annie Live'
Tituss Burgess slaying as Rooster/Mr. Mudge
Burgess deadpanning with Hilty's Lily as they work out (and later try to pull off) their con against Daddy Warbucks brought some welcome laughs, as did his mustache and glasses. The way he cooed, "Itl'll be ok, Shirllll" nearly had us in stitches. As Rooster, he also rocked that fedora and suit. And those suspenders!
Zach Dilgard/NBC Annie meets FDR
Cabinet Battle 4
For some reason, cabinet meetings seem to be popular settings for musical numbers (see: Hamilton, 1776). But never does it feel less necessary than it does in Annie. Yes, we need to know how important Daddy Warbucks is, how far his influence and resources reach. But does Annie really need to go to D.C. and meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt? Does anyone buy that singing "Tomorrow" will inspire the New Deal, one of the most progressive pieces of legislation this nation has ever seen? At least it meant we got to hear "We're Getting a New Deal for Christmas" at the finale.
Zach Dilgard/NBC Celina Smith in 'Annie Live'
Celina Smith is pure joy as Annie
Newcomer Celina Smith won the role of Annie and her performance amply proved why. At turns, adorably cheeky and heartbreakingly vulnerable (she even made Scherzinger cry onstage!), she carries the show. The role of Annie is a lot to put on a tween, but Smith persuaded all of us we don't need anyone but her. Her vocals were stellar, especially on iconic numbers like "Tomorrow," and she easily won our hearts just as surely as she won Daddy Warbucks' too.