It was the second play I ever saw on Broadway, way back in the early 80s when I was 12 years old. I’d recently seen the film, but for my memories, this was the version of Annie that would stick with me forever. The lavish productions, the choreography, the beautiful sets (especially of New York City. I remember thinking I wish I lived there…. and I already DID!). All of it had me mesmerized at such an early age. I already knew the song “Tomorrow” and, in one of my most extroverted moments ever, at my mother’s urging I sang it in full prepubescent voice to our section before the play started. I was all in.
I’ve seen most of the reincarnations of the play, including the “all-Black” film version with Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis, and the unfortunate Hollywood Bowl version that was so bad, I left at intermission. But still… Annie, baby!
So of course I was intrigued when NBC announced it would be doing a live version for the holiday season. The music is iconic: most folks love the anthemic “Tomorrow” and the collaborative “Hard Knock Life” but I’ve always been partial to the more sentimental “Maybe.” Also, I’ve always loved Harry Connick, Jr.’s voice, and knew Tituss Burgess and Nicole Scherzinger could sing with the best of them, so automatically it was going to be appointment television. Throw in Taraji P. Henson in the Miss Hannigan role played to perfection by Carol Burnett in the classic film and we had ourselves a party.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the brilliance that was Celina Smith as Annie. As mentioned above, I’ve seen a LOT of the previous productions, ones with caucasian actresses embodying the role and Black actresses filling the lead spot as well. Seeing Celina do it flawlessly on live television was a joy. Her voice, her stage presence, the dance moves, the way she played off of the other actors… she’s a star.
I could go on and on about her, and the play, the perils of live television when it comes to cameras and cues, or the fact that Connick’s wig cap deserved its own billing with its random and bizarre fitting, but I won’t. Instead I’ll just load up a few clips below and allow you to experience just a bit of the production I’ve loved almost my entire life. The story of a little orphan who was able to find her family (and hopefully her dog, with as much as “Sandy” kept disappearing… heh). Great job by all involved.
Kudos, NBC. Enjoy.