‘Annie Live!’ Review : NBC’s Newest Musical Production Has A Rough Start, But Finishes Strong

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Annie Live! is NBC’s 10th annual telecast of a Broadway musical (following The Wiz!, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Rent Live!). The show has gone through a variety of adaptations. First, the 2014 Annie film starring Quvenzhané Wallis, and now Annie Live! starring Celina Smith in the titular role. So how does it stack up among the rest? Well, it’s somewhere in the middle, with several positive elements and equally negative ones. 

To recap the story of the orphan Annie, she’s an 11-year-old girl in an orphanage under the supervision of Miss Hannigan (Taraji P. Hensen). Abandoned by her parents, things look glum for our heroine. But she always keeps positive and continues to manifest her dreams. Her luck suddenly changes when she meets Grace Ferrell (former Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger) and billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Harry Connick Jr.), who takes her into his home and becomes smitten by the young child’s charm. Of course, hijinks ensue, as nothing is that easy. But how does that play out in this musical? 

The sound stage is large and circular, which is an excellent call to provide a 360 view of the set. The transitions are quick and seamless. Changing wardrobe, moving pieces, and lighting make the stage come to life. The Annie Live! ensemble is simply fantastic. They are the most exciting part of the show and are the glue holding the production together. These talented people don’t miss a beat. 

There are some stand-out performances and fun, memorable numbers in the production. The ensemble and their ode to President FDR’s downfall is harmonized to perfection. Scherzinger delivers a lively performance as Miss Ferrell, and her best musical number is when Annie first enters the Warbucks mansion. “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” is a cute number, and the young ladies are having a good time just being a part of the production. 

But it isn’t perfect. The staging of the set is sometimes awkward. Some shots show audience members sitting behind set pieces with no way to see what’s happening in front of them. Outside of the distracting staging, the show starts with shots out of focus and shaky and that aren’t rectified until 90 minutes in. It adds some new components to the story to give it a 2021-relatable feel, but adding and stating that Warbucks is a Republican adds nothing to the overall story. That wasn’t an issue of contention before, so why add it in now? It’s wince-inducing and unnecessary. 

Overall, the closing song is the most resplendent number in the whole musical, but that’s how it should be. While Annie Live! doesn’t always fire on all cylinders, a story of hope and belonging is undoubtedly what the country needs right now. And for many Annie fans, this version will hit the spot.

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